Better warnings would help schools filter teaching applicants with sexual abuse histories
- Many schools unknowingly hire teachers who have been dismissed from previous districts for sexual abuse because they aren't aware of the teacher’s past history, according to a report from NPR.
- Though the Title IX law passed in 1972 protects students from sexual abuse or misconduct by school employees, and 2015's Every Student Succeeds Act instructs districts that receive federal funding to take steps to prevent predatory teachers from finding new jobs, there are no clear, uniform plans for ensuring compliance with these provisions.
- A 2015 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice recommends that schools have "clear guidance for reporting" predatory teachers, as well as "collaborative relationships among agencies" to deal with the problem, and some states are enacting laws to address the issue. Texas, for example, recently enacted a law making it a felony for school administrators to intentionally fail to report predatory teachers.
The problem of sexual abuse by teachers is far more common than many administrators want to acknowledge. According to statistics provided by the Counter Pedophilia Investigative Unit, between 1% and 5% of teachers sexually harass or abuse students. In addition, at least 25% of school districts in the United States have dealt with incidents of staff sexual abuse in the past 10 years — and a growing number of women teachers are responsible for these crimes. In 2014, roughly 800 school employees were prosecuted for student sex crimes, and about one-third of that number was female. This also does not account for the many cases of sexual assault by teachers that go unreported or unbelieved.
No school administrator wants to hire a sexual offender. However, finding out about these issues is not always easy, especially when there is so much pressure to fill teacher slots. Some school districts have confidentiality agreements with teachers who leave the district or are simply concerned with violating personal or student privacy laws. Teacher unions have also occasionally complicated matters.
However, school districts and states need to come up with new polices that clearly state that student protection is the paramount issue. Some states, like Texas, have crafted such laws. In the current #MeToo environment, these policies are likely to see a greater chance of passage. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education also needs to give greater guidance on how to enforce the protections granted in policies like Title IX.
Though teachers do need ways to defend themselves against false accusations, school districts also need to ensure that allegations are investigated by police or other appropriate authorities so records are publicly available. Doing so can help other districts with their due diligence in the hiring process, so they don't simply pass predators off to other locations.