Lesson of L.A. teacher sex-crime case: Heed children who report abuse
Mark Berndt, who taught at a Los Angeles school for more than 30 years, is charged with 23 counts of committing lewd acts on children since 2005. Two former students say they reported him 20 years ago.
(Page 2 of 2)
“Every child in the room knew what was happening and students talked about it among themselves. The teacher repeated this behavior for 15 years before one student finally reported to an official who would act,” says the report, prepared by Charol Shakeshaft, now a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In 2010, a report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) detailed cases of abusive educators moving from state to state and committing new offenses – even sometimes after being convicted of sexual abuse. State laws requiring background checks or reporting of sexual misconduct in schools vary widely.
There have been some small signs of progress. A 2011 law in Missouri may be the first to really try to stop the phenomenon. Known as the Amy Hester Student Protection Act, it “requires school districts to report substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct by educators to another school district that seeks a reference for that educator,” according to Courthouse News Service.
On the federal level, no laws regulate the employment of sex offenders in schools, the GAO noted.
But Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R) of Pennsylvania is trying to change that. In December he introduced the Jeremy Bell Act of 2011 (HR 3766). The bill would bring fines or prison time to a school employer who facilitates a former employee getting a job in another state if he or she has engaged in sexual misconduct with someone under age 18.
The bill would also tie federal funding to requirements that states have laws mandating reporting by school employees of suspected abuse, and give other educators in the state access to such reports. And it would require schools to check employee fingerprints against national databases.
In the late 1990s, Jeremy Bell was sexually assaulted by his school principal and at one point was given a chemical to render him defenseless, which turned out to be lethal. Parents and teachers had reported the principal to the school board, and he had moved across state lines multiple times for jobs.
Under California rules, Berndt will qualify for pension benefits even if he is convicted, Superintendent Deasy noted in his Feb. 1 letter. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System did not respond to the Monitor’s request for comment.
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.