Sexual Misconduct in Our Schools: A Cue for Reform
Ineffective Background Investigations of Teachers and Staff Have Led to Increased Incidents of Sexual Assaults in U.S. Schools
In the past year, there has been an astounding increase in news stories of teachers and school staff members engaging in unlawful sexual misconduct with students under the age of 18 years. Even more shocking is the fact that we now notice this increase on a merely local level! These tragic cases are becoming so common today that they rarely even make national news.
Given this seemingly obvious increase in sexual victimization of students by educators and faculty, one would expect statistical research abound from the last decade. However, the lack of recent reported findings and comprehensive research on the topic is evident, and reflects the lack of serious attention to, and regulation of, the sexual misconduct epidemic that we see in schools across our country nearly every day.
The most accurate data available to this day was presented in 2004 by the AAUW, because of this study’s “carefully drawn sample and survey methodology,” according to the Government Accountability Office. After conducting the study, it was found that 9.6% of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct at some point during their school career.
To translate this statistic into more relatable terms, imagine one of ten little boys and girls in your child’s class at risk of sexual victimization by an educationally credentialed adult in that school — and that was over a decade ago.
Despite the scant national studies of the increasing trend over the past decade, there are shocking present-day statistical facts available based on the surge in media reports of these incidents. Below are just a few of a vast array of examples of the recent increase in this troublesome and widespread problem we face as a nation:
- Every week has brought news of 15 young people, on average, who were sexually victimized by educators entrusted with protecting them (Terry Abbott, Former Chief of Staff at U.S. Dept. of Education).
- There were 781 reported cases of teachers and other school employees accused or convicted of sexual relationships with students in 2014 alone (Washington Post).
- The 2014-2015 academic year marked the seventh consecutive year in which Texas teacher-student sexual impropriety increased.
- Investigations into educator-student relations by the Texas Education Agency in Texas alone jumped from 141 (’09-’10) to 179 (’13-’14) to 188 (’14-’15). That’s a 33.3% increase in educator sexual abuse allegations from 2009 to 2015 in Texas.
- Kentucky schools reported 45+ sexual relationships between teachers and students in 2011, up from 25 in 2010 (Terry Abbott).
- Alabama’s investigations into teacher-student sexual misconduct nearly tripled from 2009 to 2013; 31 cases reported for the year in 2013 (Terry Abbott).
Why does this devastating increase in sexual misconduct cases involving teachers, administrators and staff in our nation’s schools continue? Clearly, thorough background investigations are not being routinely or properly conducted. A legitimate in-depth investigation could uncover an arrest or prior litigation that would evidence the applicant’s past history and forewarn prospective employers of sexual tendencies that may threaten our schools’ children. Most alarming, however, is the number of documented incidents reported to administrators who fail to take appropriate action and immediately notify law enforcement agencies of these types of incidents.
Our investigation reveals that most school districts conduct “Background Checks” primarily focused on “Credentialing” to determine if the prospective employee possessed the educational certifications and experience to qualify for the position. While fingerprinting is required of applicants in most school districts, the responding agencies including the F.B.I. do not provide arrest information, only records of convictions reported to those agencies. In many instances, State Bureaus of Identification do not update criminal conviction information in a timely fashion and may, as a matter of routine, purge criminal conviction information after ten years from the date of arrest.
The safety and security of our children is the foremost responsibility of our educators. School districts should examine their current Background Investigation processes to insure they are comprehensive and thorough; comply and comport with Federal Law as it regards hiring practices; and, implement investigations and sexual abuse prevention training not only at hire, but at set intervals during each employee’s term of employment.
About the Author
Having served as a security consultant to government, education, and industry, William J. Smith is the Managing Member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com. The firm provides instruction, training, and guidance in all matters of school safety, security, and emergency management. Mr. Smith may be reached via contact information provided at https://www.americanschoolsafety.com/or by calling 866-531-6560.
What You Can Do
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