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The Boston Globe

Opinion

LAWRENCE HARMON

Teacher, then arbitrator, overstep

Everyone is guilty of loose talk on occasion. But there’s a gulf between a slip of the tongue and sexualizing a high school student, especially on the part of a teacher. Former Lexington High School physics teacher Mark Zagaeski fell into that trap — twice — and lost his job. But along comes a labor arbitrator to extricate Zagaeski, dust off his reputation, and reward him with a couple of years of back pay.

The facts of the case as they appear in court documents aren’t in dispute. In 2011, Lexington school superintendent Paul Ash fired Zagaeski for “conduct unbecoming a teacher.’’ It began when a 17-year-old student jokingly suggested that she would pay Zagaeski for a better grade. Another student interjected, “You mean short of sexual favors.’’ That prompted Zagaeski to chime in, “Yes, that is the only thing that would be accepted.’’ The class laughed. A few days later in a tutoring session, the girl asked Zagaeski again if he would accept pay for a better grade. “Well, no, you know that the only thing that I would accept is a sexual favor,’’ he quipped. Another student present laughed. But that exchange prompted the girl who was subjected to the remark to complain to school officials, leading to Zagaeski’s termination.

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