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Is Your School Safe From Sex Offenders?

Submitted by on January 8, 2011 – 2:37 pm7 Comments

As school begins for the spring semester (or lingers just around the corner for some of us), the inevitable evokes images of seeing our friends, studying hard, and dreaded exams and papers.

However, there may be more danger lurking in the halls of our educational institutions than we realize.

USA Today reports many schools across the nation have been unknowingly hiring registered sex offenders as teachers, principals, administrators, and other positions which put them in direct contact with young people—the exact situations that they are supposed to stay well away from.

How does this happen?

While laws explicitly prohibit this type of employment by those registered as sex offenders, it is up to the schools themselves to enforce policies which comply with the law. Simply put, schools have to do background checks and criminal history screenings. For many schools, these types of screenings either cost too much or take too long, especially when a vacancy in personnel needs to be filled quickly.

Also, the laws vary from state to state, meaning some states have much stricter laws than others for conducting these checks and determining who is eligible for employment by the various school systems.

Of course, none of these excuses are good enough when it comes to the safety of children, especially not when one considers these staggering numbers.

An Education Department study estimates that millions of kids in kindergarten through 12th grade are victims of sexual misconduct by a school employee at some point. The GAO report also notes most sexual abuse of children goes unreported. In one study it cites, 232 child molesters admitted to molesting a total of 17,000 victims, often without ever being caught.

Furthermore, many of the schools encountering these issues haven’t even had to deal with problems with the background checks, besides the fact that they failed to conduct them. In other cases, teachers dismissed from schools for sexual misconduct get glowing recommendation letters from colleagues which allows them to go to another school and continue the same criminal behavior. Failure to follow up on peculiar interview or application responses may also lead to rendering young students unsafe. Fear of lawsuits by the applicants is cited as well.

None of these excuses come close to justifying the lack of foresight (or sight in general) displayed by several of these school systems across the country. The fact of the matter is, the most important people at any school are the students and they should be able to come to school and learn unharmed. Obviously, school administration is supposed to take every single precaution—no matter the cost—to ensure this is the case. No matter how long the checks take, how much they cost, how uncomfortable it is to pry during interviews, or how many times the school is threatened with a lawsuit for doing its job, the major priority is keeping children safe.

The very fact that this needs to be said indicates communities need to do a better job of holding school officials accountable for the safety as well as the education of their children. Since many of these folks are so afraid of a lawsuit, maybe one filed by the parent of a child who suffered abuse from one of these unscreened employees will help to get the message across?

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