Sexual abuse becomes a problem in education

By Megan Pellegrino
November 15, 2007

Pennsylvania: A middle school teacher confesses his love for one of his female students so that he may sexually abuse her.

Michigan: A teacher goes to prison after filming himself molesting a boy. The teacher had already lost his license in another state, making this not his first sexual offence.

Nebraska: A 25-year-old teacher abuses, kidnaps and flees across the border to Mexico with a 13-year-old student.

An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years where educators were punished for sexually abusing students.

In Pennsylvania alone, the number of sexual offenders to date, including, but not limited to educators, is 9,373.

“The definition for sexual assault for the purpose of teachers is different than what sexual assault would be if you were working at another job,” Dr. Dawn Middleton, chairperson of the education department, told Loquitur in an interview. “Teachers are held to very high standards.”

“A teacher has a responsibility to be respectful for someone else’s personal space, especially children,” junior elementary early childhood education major Shannon Federici said.

According to the AP, “There are three million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators, nearly three for every school day, speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.”

On the pre-school level, putting an arm around a child for comfort or a hand over a child’s hand to stop fidgeting is very much acceptable. It is used as a classroom management technique.

However, those same actions past third or fourth grade, particularly with opposite sex teacher and student, can be construed as sexual assault, since the action is usually unwanted, Middleton said.

In the state of Pennsylvania, even a tenured teacher may be fired for what is called moral turpitude. If a teacher does anything illegal, unethical or immoral at any time, under the moral turpitude clause, it may be grounds for dismissal.

In some cases, teaching certificates can be revoked. Pennsylvania has a no-tolerance law for any actions that may be considered moral turpitude.

This semester at Cabrini, 267 education majors participating in field experience had to undergo a background check and a FBI clearance. The FBI clearance comes back as a clean record or a criminal record. “You want to come back with a blank piece of paper that says you have no history,” Middleton said.

If a student’s FBI clearance comes back with a criminal record, Cabrini will not sign nor recommend the student for their teaching certificate.

The college will not pass judgment on a student’s record but will send the record on to the certification office of the state department of education in Harrisburg. If that office believes that there is a chance that the student could be certified, a board will be assembled and then review the case.

“My experience has been that it is a 50/50 deal. and of the 50 percent that have been certified, I don’t know of any that have been placed in a Pennsylvania public school,” Middleton said.

At Cabrini, “background checks are done on every faculty, staff, administrator and even some student workers,” Lisa Shimada Stauffer, the director of human resources, said.

Included in the background checks on all new employees are a state criminal check and a state sex offender search. Cabrini does not perform a state Child Abuse History Clearance on all employees, only those working in the Children’s School. The background checks are only conducted on new hires, not on those already employed.

“The information that comes back to the office is not shared with anyone unless it affects another,” Shimada Stauffer said.

In the AP investigation, “The total number of times an action was taken against a teacher’s license for sexual misconduct was 2,625. Licenses were revoked in 1,636 of the cases; surrendered in 440 cases; suspended in 376 cases; and denied in 108 cases.”

“Teachers don’t always quite understand the significance of their actions. It starts from the moment you step on this campus as an education major. You are now being seen in a light that is different from anywhere that you have ever been seen in before,” Middleton said.

Loquitur welcomes your comments on this story. Please send your comments to: Loquitur@googlegroups.com. The editors will review your comments each week and make corrections if warranted.

Megan Pellegrino

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