Miramonte sex abuse: Schools facing Catholic Church-like wave of scandal?
The Miramonte School scandal could be a wakeup call about the prevalence of sexual abuse in schools nationwide, experts say – adding that scandals could sweep though education world the way they did though the Catholic Church.
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Comparisons to the sexual misconduct scandal in the Catholic Church are appropriate, says Terri Miller, president of SESAME, a Nevada-based national advocacy group on behalf of sexually-abused schoolchildren.Skip to next paragraph
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The two institutions have much in common, she says, “children trust the adults in those settings, they are encouraged to believe and obey.”
The biggest difference, she says, is “our children are not required to go to church, but they are required to go to school.”
Her all-volunteer, nonprofit organization is backing efforts to change laws that govern how much information employers can obtain about prospective school applicants. She points to the Jeremy Bell Act, sponsored by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R) of Pennsylvania, which would criminalize withholding of any information about prior sexual misconduct by an applicant at a school. It is named for a 12-year-old who was drugged an sexually assaulted by his principal on a camping trip.
“This man was passed along by 18 different districts who knew about allegations and never passed the information to the next school,” Ms. Miller says. “This has got to stop.”
In January, the bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.
Many teachers and administrators worry that this new wave of attention to the issue wrongly demonizes the vast majority of educators who are honorable and devoted to their work, says Elizabeth Reilly, professor of educational leadership at the School of Education of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
She met with 25 doctoral students on Monday – many of whom are principals in the LAUSD. “The keys are transparency and accountability,” she says.
But nearly all training for detecting sexual abuse is geared toward teachers detecting abuse outside the school, not from within it, says Virginia Commonwealth University's Shakeshaft. “Teachers are trained to detect signs of parental abuse, but not teacher abuse,” she says.
There has been some progress, however. “When I began my work, I used to get hate mail from teachers asking why I hate teachers,” she says. “At least that has stopped.”
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