Friday, April 27th, 2018

Beware of “Passing the Trash”: School Employee Sexual Misconduct

Posted by Rachael Ballard Filed under: Human Resources, Programs, Student Well-Being

Title IX and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) include protections for students from sexual abuse or misconduct by school employees. So why do we still see stories in the news about teachers who, despite allegations of sexual misconduct with students, are able to get hired at new districts and continue the cycle of abuse? Experts and researchers call this “passing the trash.”

In a recent NPR article titled “Without Warning System, Schools Often ‘Pass The Trash’ — And Expose Kids To Danger,” Department of Education spokesperson Liz Hill says the department does not monitor how, or whether, states have complied with the above laws. However, even if it was monitoring the states, the law says the DOE does not have the “authority to mandate, direct, or control” state or district compliance with that provision.” This leaves the important question: If the federal and state governments cannot enforce compliance, what can individual districts do?

The Department of Justice commissioned, “A Case Study of K-12 School Employee Sexual Misconduct: Lessons Learned from Title IX Policy Implementation,” to determine how school districts are implementing federal guidance for preventing and responding to school employee sexual misconduct. The qualitative case study examined five school districts, all of which experienced a case of school employee sexual misconduct in 2014. According to a press release about the case study on the Stop Sexual Educator Abuse Misconduct & Exploration (SESAME) blog, their findings suggest that districts might not fully implement federal guidance, even after an incident is reported. Not implementing federal guidance puts students at risk of predatory behavior and districts at risk for being liable for civil damages.

The researchers conducted interviews, focus groups, and document reviews with each of the five districts after they experienced their respective cases of sexual misconduct. Some key findings include:

  • A challenge participants faced was members from their districts were “reluctant to believe an incident had occurred in their districts, and school employees and administrators were uncomfortable and hesitant to discuss the topic.” Their recommendation for fixing this is to “be proactive in reporting suspicious behavior, encourage accountability, and improve district leadership.”
  • Participants indicated reporting “may be stifled by a number of factors, including fear of community and media response, student and staff reluctance to report, and difficulty identifying warning signs,” but their recommendation for fixing this is to “have clear guidance for reporting and encourage staff, students, and parents to make reports.”

The report provides nine takeaways for districts looking to prevent or respond effectively to incidents of school employee sexual misconduct.

  1. Be proactive
  2. Develop clear and comprehensive policies and procedures
  3. Improve communication about policies and procedures
  4. Offer annual staff, student, and parent trainings
  5. Have clear guidance for reporting procedures
  6. Develop protocols and checklists
  7. Establish accountability measures
  8. Have strong leaders communicate and enforce policies and procedures
  9. Develop collaborative relationships with criminal justice and child welfare agencies.

Not “passing the trash” starts at the district level with appropriate training, reporting and follow through. PublicSchoolWORKS’ staff misconduct program can help your district implement several of the key takeaways above to better protect students from predatory behavior. While the training courses give staff the knowledge base to recognize signs of misconduct such as grooming and to understand their responsibility to report suspicions, the staff misconduct reporting system gives individuals an easy way to submit reports. Because the system is online, all reports are saved in the PublicSchoolWORKS system and when one is submitted, key administrators are immediately alerted via email to begin an investigation.

To learn how PublicSchoolWORKS can help your district take a proactive approach to protecting students from predatory behavior, contact us today.

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