Are NJ Kids Safe in School From Predator Teachers?
The numbers are shocking and disturbing.
According to data compiled by Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation (S.E.S.A.M.E.), a total of 33 New Jersey teachers have been arrested on sexual misconduct charges over the past two years. There were 19 arrests in 2014 and 13 in 2015. To date, there has been one arrest in 2016.
“This is a huge problem that has reached epidemic proportions,” said S.E.S.A.M.E. President Terri Miller.
The problem is so widespread, according to Miller, that one in 10 students suffers some form of educator sexual misconduct during their school career.
“This should be very alarming to the powers that be on Capital Hill and in the U.S. Department of Education. Our numbers are showing a rise in the problem from year to year, just counting new teacher arrests,” Miller said. “Whether a child is a female victim or a male victim, the trauma is the same. We know that it is so traumatic that many attempt suicide as a result of being abused by an educator, and many succeed.”
What can be done to stop the abuse? Miller stressed schools must do more to ensure student safety.
“One child being harmed by a trusted adult within our schools is shocking enough and should be cause for immediate, aggressive action,” Miller said.
In the past, some of these cases involving an alleged offender have not always resulted in termination, according to Miller. In some, the accused teacher has been allowed to resign and even get recommendation letters from their former school so they can move to another district.
That will be harder to achieve when a new federal law goes into effect in October that forbids these types of confidentiality agreements. The law will also require schools to report alleged offenders.
“We need to remember that these are children. These are children entrusted to the tutelage of teachers, and not to be abused by teachers,” Miller said. “Parents are required to send their children to school, and by golly we want to make sure that our schools are mandated to keep them safe.”
According to Miller, most sexual misconduct cases in the U.S. involve male teachers. In addition, she said it's not uncommon for one perpetrator to have multiple victims, sometimes dozens over the course of many years.
“We must make sure that all adults coming in contact with our children are deemed fit to serve those children," Miller said. "Children are vulnerable. They are impressionable little human beings and they can be molded and shaped in any way that an adult wants them to be, and it is to their detriment when an adult is abusing that position of trust.”
A written statement from Frank Belluscio, deputy executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, indicates all school districts in New Jersey must address any inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a student. After that, the superintendent of schools would proceed against the employee in accordance with the law in such a situation.
He added in situations where an employee is accused of conduct that poses a threat to a child’s health or safety, the employee must be removed from the classroom immediately.
Additionally, if the alleged conduct involves a crime, the employee would be suspended automatically. If convicted, he or she would have to forfeit the position, and depending on the nature of the incident, the district’s memorandum of agreement with local law enforcement (a document required in all school districts) might also dictate a course of action.
In addition, under statute, unbecoming conduct is one of four classifications which would form the basis for tenure charges.
Also according to the statement:
- NJSBA provides a sample policy to school boards on “Staff Conduct with Students.” That policy expressly prohibits “any type of sexual or inappropriate physical contact with students or any other conduct that might be considered harassment…;”
- NJSBA also provides boards with an extensive model policy on electronic communication between staff and students. The NJSBA model was first developed in 2012, and such a policy became required by state law in 2014;
- Many school districts provide their teaching staffs with handbooks, that include district policies, regulations, etc.
David Matthau is a field reporter for NJ 101.5. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.