A New School Year of Reading, Writing, and Crimes against Students

Students across the country are beginning the school year with enhanced security to prevent on-campus shootings, but school boards are not providing the same level of protection against the most prevalent crime against students: sexual assault by school employees.

As school bells ring across the country to open another school year, it may be a good time to ask a question for thoughtful discussion, not divisive argument.  As a parent or grandparent, which concerns you more: (a) school shootings or (b) school pedophiles and abusers?

Santa Fe High School in Texas is starting the new academic year this week with metal detectors and additional armed school officers.  All of this after the murders of eight students and two teachers a few months ago.  Nationwide, school shootings in the first six months of this year killed 41 children and adults and wounded 74 others.  And we have four months left in 2018.

The Washington Post reported in March that since Columbine in 1999, more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours, more than the population of Eugene, Oregon.  That's 187,000 students in 18 years, which is a little more than 10,000 students a year, or about the population of Leon Valley, Texas.

About 50 million kids attend U.S. schools.  Keep that number in mind as you consider answer (b).  Several studies over the past decade have settled on one figure: 10.  That is the percentage of children sexually abused by teachers and school employees at least once between kindergarten and 12th grade.

Let that sink in.  Ten percent of fifty million means five million of our children and grandchildren will leave high school with a diploma and the lifetime scar of sexual abuse.  Five million is more than the combined populations of Houston and Chicago.  That does not include physical and psychological abuse that researchers cannot measure because no school keeps such records.

How many kids are in your school?  One hundred?  Five thousand?  Do the math, then explain why we spend a considerable amount of time, effort, money, and emotional capital to prevent gun violence that killed or wounded two ten-thousandths of a percent of the school population.  Two ten-thousandths of a percent versus ten percent.  Your chance of getting killed riding a bicycle (1 in 4,050) is ten times greater than being a victim of a school shooting.

Getting sexually assaulted by a trusted school employee: 1 in 10.

We spend time, effort, and money on school security because we expect our children to come home alive and well when we send them to school.  Even one child is too many.  That is something we cannot live with.

Even though no child died a physical death from sexual assault by a teacher or coach, we still expect our children to come home unmolested and well when we send them to school.  Even one child victim of teacher rape is one too many.  Or is that something we can live with?

After every school shooting, we hear the same question: why didn't anyone notice that this child had problems?  But after an incident of sexual abuse by a teacher or coach, does anyone ask why no one noticed that the teacher or coach had a problem?

Some of those same studies on sexual assault in schools also point out that many cases go unreported, and many reported cases end up with school administrators covering up the crime instead of reporting it, sometimes with the support of teacher unions.  The Catholic Church did this for a long, long time and now faces the consequences.  School boards and administrators also have done the same for a long, long time, with students facing the consequences.

It is hard to identify a troubled child with plans to kill, but teachers are learning how to spot the telltale signs.  Maybe it is time they also learned how to spot sexual predators in the teachers' lounge.

John David Powell is an award-winning journalist living in Texas.

Image credit: Pixabay.

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