SEX EDUCATION

NO ONE IN FLAGSTAFF COULD BELIEVE THE CHARGES AGAINST THE TOWN'S FAVORITE MUSIC TEACHER. THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN MESA.

Now a 34-year-old married woman who lives in another state, Janice's story is as chilling as it is sad: She says she had her first one-on-one encounter with Pitts in seventh grade, after one of his swimming parties.

Her mother was late picking her up, so she and Pitts played a board game called Blockhead. For some reason, Pitts lost his temper during the game, Janice recalls, starting what was to become a pattern of exploding at her, then apologizing profusely.

Janice attended a music camp headed by Pitts between seventh and eighth grades. Pitts kicked her out of class one time for unruly behavior, then "made up" later in private by giving her what she calls an extended hug.

The hugs and little kisses continued during eighth grade--the 1970-71 school year. At Christmastime, Pitts kissed Janice on the lips after a class and asked her to stop by his house to collect holiday ornaments. There he kissed her again, more passionately than before.

For the next several months, Janice would spend time at Pitts' home on Sunday afternoons. Janice would tell her folks she was taking a bike ride to a friend's house. The friend lived near Pitts.

Janice says she knew that what she was doing was wrong. A Mormon from a devout family, she expected divine retribution for participating in what she considered sinful activities. But things were spinning out of her control.

In the spring of 1971, Janice says, Pitts touched her genitals for the first time. It happened in the chorus room at a Mesa school. The kissing and fondling sessions continued. Then, just before the school year ended, Janice says, she and Ralston Pitts had sexual intercourse. She was a 13-year-old virgin. Pitts was in his late 30s.

From then until she was 18, Janice says, she and Pitts had sex several times each year.

As often occurs in such situations, Janice had fallen in love with Ralston Pitts. She considered him her secret "boyfriend" and dreamed that someday it could all come out in the open.

At her core, however, Janice was torn apart. She had violated a basic rule of her faith by having premarital sexual intercourse. The man with whom she had sex was old enough to be her father. And that man was black--in the days when blacks had marginal standing in the Mormon faith. There hardly could be greater shame. Her school grades kept slipping, and she was ill more often than not.

During her junior year in high school, Janice finally confided to close friends about her relationship with Pitts. One friend convinced her to talk to a Mormon bishop about it.

The question of how Mormons deal with abuse--sexual, physical or emotional--remains controversial. Many law enforcement and mental-health types say Mormon church officials prefer to handle such matters in-house.

It was not surprising, then, that the bishop felt obliged not to divulge Janice's confidences to anyone, including her parents or the Mesa police. He did urge Janice to tell her parents about Pitts, but, wracked with shame, she couldn't bring herself to do it. And so the relationship continued.

Janice says that during her senior year in high school, Pitts told her to start dating boys her own age. She agreed. But in times of depression and confusion, she would phone him and things would start up again.

The relationship didn't end even after Janice was graduated from high school in 1975 and enrolled at a local community college. But finally, in the summer of 1977, her psyche hit its breaking point.

Janice's brother got sick and she blamed the illness on what she considered her own sinful behavior. Soon, Janice told her sister-in-law about Ralston Pitts.

The woman insisted that Janice contact another LDS bishop. This bishop also urged Janice to speak with her parents. In the fall of 1977, Janice says, she told her folks the truth at last.

"Mom and Dad were working for the Mesa schools then," she says. "It was hard to know what was the right thing to do."
@rule:
@body:Weeks passed, and Ralston Pitts continued to show up for school in Mesa. But things were beginning to happen behind the scenes.

Pitts' own church pastor learned of Janice's allegations. The pastor apparently informed Pitts, who hired an attorney--the son-in-law of good friend Mesa school superintendent George Smith. Pitts also asked Janice to convince her parents not to act until the end of the school year. Then, he told her, he'd quit and go away.

Around this time, Pitts managed to pull off a truly astounding feat. With his career--and maybe his freedom--hanging in the balance, Pitts asked Mesa school officials for letters of recommendation. And he got them.

In a document dated November 15, 1977, then-assistant superintendent Jim Zaharis wrote of Pitts: "Ralston's ability to have young people achieve their highest potential is remarkable."

Zaharis, now the superintendent of the Mesa schools, says he didn't know of the allegations against Pitts. "All I knew was that Ralston wanted to go to Tucson to work on his doctorate," he tells New Times. "I've never known anything about these allegations until this moment."

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