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Mar 172015
 

School Sex Abuse in the U.S. – It’s Time to Wake Up

We have a serious problem in this country. Last year, hundreds of school employees were arrested for sexual misconduct with students, 459 to be exact, 20 or so just in Pennsylvania. The trend isn’t going anywhere. So far this year, over 80 school employees have been arrested for engaging in sexual misconduct with children. Despite recent high-profile cases involving Catholic schools in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, school employees in Pennsylvania and beyond are not getting the message.

A known pedophile who works in a school as a teacher, aide, coach, volunteer, etc., has the ability to cross state lines and get employed in another school. While it sounds ludicrous that something like this could happen, it does, and it happens for two reasons. First, background check requirements vary from state to state, and most states don’t check federal databases. Second, there is a certain practice that some schools engage in. It’s called “passing the trash” or giving a problem employee a glowing recommendation so that the employee becomes someone else’s problem. Basically, the school fails to do the right thing by contacting local law enforcement. To avoid an investigation, the school does nothing. Then, when the employee needs a reference or recommendation, the first school provides one, helping the employee get a job at the second school.

Pedophile School Employees Move from State to State

Here’s a horrendous example of how a pedophile teacher can move from state to state due to the practice of “passing the trash.” Last year, an elementary school teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada abducted a 16 year old student and sexually abused her, giving her a sexually transmitted disease. The teacher had formerly been employed in the Los Angeles School District, where he was accused of molesting younger children. While those cases were pending, the School District recommended settling. Later, when contacted by the Las Vegas school during a routine background check, the Los Angeles School District said nothing when asked about criminal conduct or concerns. The LA School District even provided three references.

Pedophile School Employees Can and Do Pass Background Checks

school classroomHere’s an example of how a pedophile teacher can move from state to state due to variations in state background check requirements.  A teacher from Missouri was arrested for physically and sexually abusing his adopted children. He absconded to Alaska and got a job as a teacher after getting a teaching certificate. He was arrested in Alaska last year after having taught for several years. How did this happen? Alaska background checks for teachers only cover state databases.

More: Public School Sex Abuse-Assault Lawsuits in Pennsylvania

Currently, several states in the country have shoddy laws when it comes to background checks for school employees, including teachers, aides, substitute teachers, coaches and volunteers. At least 12 states don’t require background checks at all for certain school employees or so-called “contractors” (i.e., aides, subs, and volunteers). In states that do require background checks, they are limited to state databases. Pennsylvania, for example, is one of those states.

Support the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act

U.S. Senator, Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) has been attempting to pass a law, the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act. It was initially introduced last year but was held up by some Senate Republicans who cited 10th Amendment concerns. Last year, it did pass the House unanimously.

This bill was inspired by the horrific story of a teacher from Delaware County, Pennsylvania who was accused of sexually abusing young boys over a decade. The school he taught at did nothing. Down the road, the teacher left the district and moved to another state. The Delaware County school gave the teacher a good recommendation, thus allowing him to get a teaching job in West Virginia. The teacher went on to become a school principal. Eventually, he raped and murdered a 12 year old boy.

Related: Pennsylvania Child Sex Abuse Reporting Law – Major Changes, Effective December 31, 2014

Toomey’s bill would require all schools receiving federal funding to conduct more intensive background checks for all school employees, basically anyone who comes into contact with children. One of the key aspects of the bill is the requirement that schools check both state and federal databases when running background checks.

The bill is a bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia). In addition, the bill is supported by various child advocacy and education organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Children’s Alliance, and the American Federation of Teachers.

However, the bill has been met with resistance in the Senate, last year by Republicans and this year by Democrats. Just last week, Toomey was prevented from introducing the bill on the Senate floor for a vote.

If enacted, the law would bring much needed uniformity to how schools in the U.S. conduct background checks on all school employees and would also end the practice of “passing the trash.” These two measures are key in keeping our kids safe. We must take action to stop sexual abuse in our schools.

Please contact your U.S. senators and tell them you support the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act.

About Laffey, Bucci & Kent

Laffey, Bucci & Kent is a Philadelphia based law firm which focuses on victim injury cases. For more information, please contact our office at 215.399.9255.