Tara Mergener | December 16, 2022
(The Lion) — Hundreds of public educators have been arrested for child sex crimes this year. As many schools stay mum, countless predators slither into new schools undetected.
The crimes range from grooming to raping underage students. Among the alleged abusers analyzed by Fox News: four principals, two assistant principals, 226 teachers, 20 teacher’s aides and 17 substitute teachers.
Of these crimes that occurred throughout various districts across the U.S., the numbers show 74% involved students.
The U.S. Department of Education’s last report on the subject in 2004 claimed about 10% of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career.
S.E.S.A.M.E., a leading national voice for the prevention of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment of students by teachers and other school staff, says the numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.
“We’ve been collecting Google alerts since 2014 on teacher arrests, just for sexual misconduct type of offenses,” Terri Miller, president of the organization, tells The Lion. “95% of educator sexual misconduct cases are handled in-house and are never reported to law enforcement. The numbers of arrests are just a fraction of the problem. But there have been thousands just since 2014.”
Miller says ending the practice of “passing the trash” – in which educators are investigated for abuse, allowed to resign and get a new job at a different school – is a top priority in tackling the culture of silence surrounding student sexual abuse.
“There is a small percentage of bad apples that can spoil the whole bunch and cause suspicion to fall upon everybody within the school system,” said Miller. “Schools don’t want shame or perpetrators existing in their schools.”
In June, The U.S. Department of Education unveiled a report titled “Study of State Policies to Prohibit Aiding and Abetting Sexual Misconduct in Schools.” This report inspected how and whether state policies prevent suspected child predators from quietly leaving their jobs with the potential to violate children in a different school district.
The report found applicable laws vary greatly from state to state. While all require criminal background checks on educators from a prospective employer, and most states require fingerprints, it also found:
- only 19 states require employers to provide information from former employers;
- 14 states demand a school official to review applicant eligibility and employment;
- fewer than 12 require job candidates to divulge information about investigations or disciplinary action for a sexual offense or abuse.
Complicating matters, not all states have laws that prohibit sexual conduct between school employees and students.
Meanwhile, the list of the crimes that have been made public, which now average about one a day, keeps growing.
In Katy, Texas, former Paetow High School football coach and athletic director Lonnie Teagle is accused of two felonies for an improper relationship with a student and indecency with a child on campus. He resigned after allegations from several girls about his behavior.
Court documents reveal similar complaints against Teagle in the Denton school district last year, where students claimed he commented on their breasts and asked for back rubs. Documents also show it took a grand jury subpoena to force Denton Independent School District to reveal complaints to investigators.
Other recent examples include allegations against Stephen Kenion, a self-defense instructor at the Baltimore City Public School District in Maryland accused of impregnating a 14-year-old and having sexual relationships with numerous other children in 2009.
Four educators from the Plymouth school system in Connecticut were arrested after child sex abuse allegations against James Eschert, a fourth-grade teacher. A report says a principal and three staff members did not report abuse and other charges after students complained about his alleged inappropriate behavior.
A former principal in Michigan was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct over the summer. Eugene Pratt, who also coached, taught at-risk youth in several public schools in the state, and is accused of sexually assaulting more than a dozen boys and young adult men during his career.
Charol Shakeshaft, an educational researcher who has been studying the issue of sexual abuse of students by school staff for 30 years, says a common factor in most cases is the failure to report red flags leading up to major incidents.
“In nearly all the cases where a student was sexually abused by an adult school employee, other adults working in the school saw and noted boundary crossings, or red flags of possible misconduct. However, they did not report these boundary crossings,” she said.
Shakeshaft, whose research is funded by the Centers for Disease Control, insists training on boundary crossing and bystander intervention and reporting is central to preventing and stopping school employee sexual misconduct.
“Had they reported, they would have triggered an investigation which would have found that 1) there was no risk to the student; 2) there was a possible risk which would result in closer monitoring and supervision, thus preventing misconduct; or 3) misconduct was occurring and would be stopped by the investigation,” she said.
Amos N. Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah and author of Armies of Enablers, has interviewed hundreds of survivors who were failed by school administrators who did not report abuse.
“Molesters knew their victims. They groomed them,” Guiora said. “Then they raped, assaulted and abused them in their offices, in classrooms and their homes. These are places that should have been safe. The lack of safety was a direct result of being determined to protect the institution, thereby ensuring the continuing and unremitting vulnerability of minors.”
Guiora also says cell phones and other communication technology have made access to children easier.
“The ease of communication, DM et al., , has greatly enhanced/exacerbated the issue, as has social media. For all the good of cell and social media, the nefarious, unintended consequences are a significant issue-threat,” he said.
Organizations such as S.E.S.A.M.E. are pushing for standardized nationwide legislation uniformly criminalizing sexual misconduct by educators to equitably protect all students from harm, as they argue current law doesn’t have enough teeth.
“Every school district that is receiving funding from the Every Student Succeeds Act is mandated to enact policy, regulation or legislation that prohibits all forms of concealment, and yet there are only about a dozen states that are complying with that mandate, since 2015 when it was enacted,” Miller said.
Tara Mergener is an award-winning journalist and expert storyteller who spent the majority of her career as a correspondent in Washington, D.C.