New Jersey’s hush hush secret: Sexual abuse in our schools.

September 10, 2018

It is a parent’s worst nightmare. Or one of them. Sending your child somewhere five days a week, 180 days a year. Somewhere they should be safe from any harm; a place solely designed to nurture your child’s academic and social growth. No parent should have to worry about our children while they are at school.

Last year alone over 30 New Jersey teachers lost their teaching license due to child endangerment and/or sexual misconduct. So far this year that number is at 20 and rising. Shocked? So was I when I began researching this topic. Apparently there are a few cracks in our system when it comes to misconduct in schools; allowing sexual predators into our education system, and therefor our classrooms. Cracks magnified by the release of an undercover video showing two NJEA leaders admitting to covering up past sexual misconduct and their willingness to do so again. Luckily our NJ Senators agreed and reacted with almost a dozen new bills in an attempt to stop this from happening in the future.

The Senate’s swift action will certainly benefit students and their safety, however I can’t help but wonder if everyone is capable of doing more when it comes to identifying possible abuse and reporting it. Unfortunately, it has been all too easy for an accused abuser to get off scott-free and go back to the classroom. A NJ teacher of 7 years was accused of inappropriately touching, speaking to, and staring at multiple 7th grade girls, enough where fellow male classmates noticed and discussed. Due to the failure of the school district and school staff to follow exact procedure when collecting evidence against the teacher, he was able to not only keep his job at the school, but he received any back pay that was withheld during the court proceedings. If you don’t mind reading legal-talk here is the official detailed transcript of the above-mentioned case. Just think; how many more instances of this have happened that we aren’t aware of?

So, what can we do to help ensure this never happens in the future?

New Jersey’s statute for mandatory reporting grants any person the duty to report suspected child abuse/misconduct to the proper authority. Shocked again? Me too, as I suspect many individuals will be when reading this. This means that anyone who witnesses suspected child abuse in school or by school personnel is required, by law, to report it to the principal, superintendent, or law enforcement. Do not second guess yourself and your instinct. If something does not look or feel right to you, tell someone. Parents, talk to your children; instill certain boundaries when it comes to their bodies. Child abusers tend to use their authority as a means to gain kids trust and/or scare them into submission. A former Bloomfield teacher and track coach was recently sentenced to 7 years for 37 charges of sexual assault. One of his victims testified how the accused had gained his trust as a friend before threatening to kick him off the track team if he didn't engage in sex acts at the teacher’s direction. This man was a teacher and coach for 8 years. This incident serves as an example of “grooming” by a sexual predator. Teachers, administrators, school staff, and parents should be on the lookout for signs of this behavior.

Luckily, NJ has recently passed the “Pass the Trash” bill, which effectively stops teachers previously accused or convicted of sexual and/or physical abuse from moving and being employed by different districts, only to commit those same acts again. Thank you NJ legislators!

All of this in conjunction with the progress of newest set of legislation is a huge step in the right direction to protect our children. We can pass all the laws in the world about abuse but if we don’t have people on the ground identifying said abuse, reporting it, and following procedure to a “T” to successfully charge the accused; then who will stop these criminals from continuing their heinous acts? They say it takes a village to raise a child, perhaps it also takes a village to protect them.

Joint senate committee hearing transcript

http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/legislativepub/pubhear/sedsla05312018.pdf

Data:

https://www.aauw.org/research/crossing-the-line/