Passing the trash doesnt have anything to do with a garbage pickup. Its the practice that school officials, teachers and administrators whisper about among themselves when school districts routinely move a teacher or administrator accused of sexual misconduct to another school, file no charges against the accused, make no public disclosure about the charges, and even make a financial settlement with the accused if they move on. Invariably, the offending teachers are dumped in the poorest of the poor mostly black and Latino inner city schools.
The practice of shuffling sexually tainted teachers and administrators is a dirty secret and a national disgrace. Yet dozens of school districts engage in the practice. Hundreds of teachers accused of or that are guilty of sexual abuse of students have skipped away scot free or with minimal disciplinary action. This practice has left countless student victims and their parents in emotional rage and turmoil. The practice recently bit the Los Angeles Unified School District hard when Steven Rooney an administrator was charged with the sexual molestation of a 13 year old middle school student.
The Rooney case was a textbook example of the all too prevalent wink and nod of many school districts toward sexual abuse. Rooney was under investigation for a prior suspected sexual offense against a teen student, yet was shuffled around to several South Los Angeles inner city schools. Finally he was dumped at Markham Middle School in the heart of Los Angeless Watts district. There was no public disclosure that Rooney might be a problem. Rooneys arrest brought howls of rage and protest from dozens of parents. Embarrassed school officials scrambled fast and offered profuse apologies, promised to set up a task force and conduct a rigorous investigation.
The problem though is that the Rooney case may be just the tip of the iceberg. The great likelihood is that there are other teachers and administrators that have committed acts of sexual abuse within the LAUSD and parents, students, and even teachers and administrators may be totally in the dark about them. And its not just the Los Angeles school district.
Education researchers estimate that fifteen percent of the nations 50 million school children could be the victims of sexual abuse. The sexual abuse involves not just inappropriate physical contact between teachers and students but involve sending emails, text messages, and digital photos, as well as My Space postings, seductive notes, and even anonymous gifts. A majority of the cases go unreported out of fear, shame, embarrassment, and reluctance on the part of some teachers and administrators to blow the whistle on their co-workers. Some districts dread the prospect of costly liability suits and settlements, and the adverse publicity from sexual abuse cases.
Even when abuse is documented or strongly suspected, the discipline is often spotty, inconsistent and arbitrary. From 2001 to 2005, states suspended or revoked the licenses of more than 2500 teachers and administrators guilty of sexual misconduct. A handful such as Rooney was jailed. In far too many other cases, the offending teachers and administrators were transferred within the district, or got jobs with other school districts, and were given glowing recommendations. There was no known public disclosure in most of these cases. There is no federal law that bars teachers accused of sexual malfeasance from moving from one school district to another.
The school districts where the sexually suspect teachers resurface did not know that they were ticking sexual time bombs. Some states have moved aggressively to get a better handle on teacher and administrator sexual abuse. They mandate fingerprinting, criminal background checks, and the automatic revocation of a teachers license for conviction of sexual molestation. Many other states have done little to crack down on school sex cases.
There are still more gargantuan loopholes in the laws. The FBIs background checks disclose felony convictions only. In many teacher sexual cases, the charges are reduced to misdemeanors. And sexual accusations are reported to police and child welfare authorities only when there is sufficient proof of abuse. Since much of the abuse is through the internet, in secret, and the victim is threatened there is no smoking gun proof of abuse. This insures that thousands of sexual abuse cases slip through the cracks. Thats what happened in the Rooney case.
The LAUSD, as other districts, were not simply clueless. They are hamstrung by their own vague and lax provisions in dealing with suspected or actual sexual abuse. The LAUSD, for instance, conducts investigations into suspected abuse only after a criminal investigation is completed. There is no mandatory transfer of teachers and administrators under a sexual abuse cloud to non-classroom assignments during the district investigation. There is no mandatory public disclosure of the results of investigations in sex cases involving teachers and administrators. There is no determination whether teachers and administrators in sexual abuse cases are disproportionately dumped at the worst performing South Los Angeles schools. These loopholes scream for closure.
In a 2007 national survey, the Associated Press found that sex cases were on the rise in many states. California was at or near the top of the list. The Rooney case and others like it show why teacher and administrator sexual abuse remains the nations dirty secret.
– The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable will host a community discussion on Sexual Predators and LAUSD Classrooms: The Steven Rooney Case May Be The tip of Tipberg. Parents, teachers and adminstrators are urged to come forth and discuss the issue. Saturday, March 22, 2008, 10 – 11 a.m., Lucy Florence Coffeehouse, 3351 W. 43rd St., Leimert Park.