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The back rubs and back-scratching that former gym teacher Ed Barber received from young students -- investigated by police in 2004 were more than isolated incidents, according to correspondence recently obtained by Style Weekly.
The back-scratching had gone on "as long as I can remember," Barber writes to a school official in a Dec. 9, 2004, letter explaining his actions.
In early June, Chesterfield County Schools declined a reporter's Freedom of Information Act request for such correspondence; Style obtained copies of the letters from a source on the condition of anonymity.
Several clinical psychologists who deal with sexually abused children say that the frequent and long-running actions of Barber, a former Chesterfield County supervisor, should have been red-flagged as the potential "grooming behavior" of a sex offender.
Instead, Chesterfield County Schools put Barber on a two-week leave, and then allowed him to return to school after he agreed in a statement dated Nov. 9, 2004, to "refrain from the practice of letting students scratch [his] back or shoulders."
Less than two years later, in June 2006, Barber pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery against his teenage stepdaughter. In late March, she filed a $7 million civil lawsuit against him.
Debra Marlow, a Chesterfield schools spokeswoman, declines to comment, citing the Barber case as a personnel matter. The school system requires teachers to behave professionally, she says, but has no specific policy regarding "inappropriate touching."
Barber, reached by phone Monday, declined to comment.
Barber was a gym teacher at Crenshaw Elementary School for more than 25 years. In October 2004, a parent witnessed two kindergarteners rubbing Barber's back while he was "slumped" over in a chair. Police investigated, but no criminal charges were filed.
Such back massaging was routine in Barber's gym classes, according to two letters from parents to school officials and Barber's written response to the allegations.
In a Nov. 1, 2004, letter Barber sent to Lyle Evans, assistant superintendent for human resources and facilities, Barber admits the back-scratching was frequent. "It is not unusual for children to ask to 'scratch my back,'" Barber wrote.
Barber also used it as a "privilege" to promote "better listening," according to his letter to Evans. "Some children will sit quietly for the opportunity to be a 'scratcher.'"
Two students in the class informed their parents that Barber would routinely pick out students and ask them to scratch his back. One student told her mother that Barber instructed the class not to tell their parents because it would "embarrass him."
The difference between Barber accepting inappropriate back rubs from students and him asking for them to do it is paramount, clinical psychologists say.
"The notion of having this privilege that you can scratch his back that is a classical ploy that predators use," says Humberto Fabelo, an associate professor of social work who specializes in child sexual abuse at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"What little 5-year-old or 6-year-old is going to say 'No, I don't want that privilege'?" Fabelo says. "That's a power play any way you look at it. That power dynamic is present in every single case of sexually abusive behavior."
Ed Barber's wife, Terry, says her husband didn't do anything wrong, and certainly didn't think it was "offensive."
"If he had thought he had done something wrong, he would not have been truthful about the situation," she says, referring to her husband's letter to Evans.
The only confirmed disciplinary action taken against Barber is the Nov. 9, 2004, statement Crenshaw principal David McCrum had Barber sign. It was placed in his personnel file. Barber was suspended from his teaching job after his arrest Dec. 29, 2005, and lost his job permanently after pleading guilty to sexual battery against his stepdaughter June 28, 2006. SClick here for more News and Features