From my own experience — this could get me in trouble — I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one," says Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating abuse and misconduct in schools. "It doesn't matter if it's urban or rural or suburban.
Some school districts have histories of of shuffling perpetrators around.
Too often, problem teachers are allowed to leave quietly. That can mean future abuse for another student and another school district.
"They might deal with it internally, suspending the person or having the person move on. So their license is never investigated," says Charol Shakeshaft, a leading expert in teacher sex abuse who heads the educational leadership department at Virginia Commonwealth University.
It's a dynamic so common it has its own nicknames — "passing the trash" or the "mobile molester."
Laws in several states require that even an allegation of sexual misconduct be reported to the state departments that oversee teacher licenses. But there's no consistent enforcement, so such laws are easy to ignore.
School officials fear public embarrassment as much as the perpetrators do, Shakeshaft says. They want to avoid the fallout from going up against a popular teacher. They also don't want to get sued by teachers or victims, and they don't want to face a challenge from a strong union.
I'm glad somebody is finally looking at this. But I have to be a little suspicious about the timing. The Catholic Church has been raked over the coals for the last 5 years, at least. Justifiably. It is good that the Church is being held accountable, and is now holding itself accountable for agressive prevention programs. But why are we only now asking about sexual abuse in public schools?
Some of us in California have been cynical about this subject because the state legislature revoked the statute of limitations, specifically so that civil suits against old clergy abuse cases could go forward. But that law exempted public institutions. People were suspicious that the reason for the exemption is that the state of California did not want to make its own public schools liable for similar claims and similar awards.
That suspicion looks all the more justified now that this AP report is coming out, just as the largest of the CA clergy abuse cases has been settled in San Diego and Los Angeles.
If public school districts shuffled abusive teachers, they should be held accountable every bit as much as the Catholic schools have been.
One report mandated by Congress estimated that as many as 4.5 million students, out of roughly 50 million in American schools, are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade. That figure includes verbal harassment that's sexual in nature.
About 10%? 9%, to be exact. That's alot, though I can't tell how many cases are verbal harrassment.
The findings draw obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church. A review by America's Catholic bishops found that about 4,400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002.
That amounts to 4% of priests were identified as perpetrators. Now, one statistic is the percentage of children abused by teachers and the other is the percentage of priests who perpetrated. But even allowing for the possibility that each perpetrator may have multiple victims, it still looks like the problem is at least as serious in the public schools as among the Catholic clergy.
Where's the outrage? It is ok for public school teachers to molest children, but not ok for priests? It is ok to bankrupt the Catholic church, but it is not ok to bankrupt public school districts to pay settlements and give justice to victims?