I work in a school district that has been shamed by sexual predators posing as teachers and the cumulative failures to prevent or stop them. Last week LAUSD teachers were required to participate in a training -- the second in two weeks, third of this school year -- on appropriate conduct and our responsibilities to identify and report child abuse in and out of school. Who can argue with such a point of emphasis? Sometimes we -- teachers and other responsible adults in the schools -- are the only ones in a position to protect our students.
I wonder, though, how much it would cost to maintain an effective screening system at the state and district level -- so we didn't have to be the last line of defense for so many children, so that all this training would be a formality and not a band-aid.
When I was processed by my district's personnel department more than twenty years ago, I was given a questionnaire that asked if I had ever had sex with a minor or had ever molested children. I almost laughed at the absurdity of asking a prospective teacher to make such a confession. But it wasn't funny. It wasn't funny at all. We all know the answer Mark Berndt gave before his thirty year career as a teacher/abuser. According to the materials from our training this week, the average number of victims per sex offender is 350.
I'm sure the LAUSD had other safeguards in place twenty years ago -- aside from that absurd questionnaire -- and even more of them now with the Internet and criminal data bases on which to rely. But obviously it wasn't enough.
Administrators are supposed to know what is going on in classrooms. But the totality of their responsibilities make that virtually impossible. Teachers are mandated child abuse reporters, but we mostly work in isolation in crowded classrooms with minimal direct student interaction, few opportunities to know what is going on in other rooms -- and, admittedly, many of us are reluctant to disparage a colleague, except in the most blatant and unambiguous of circumstances.
So we can all share some responsibility for the sad state of things, directly or indirectly or at least symbolically.
And let's not kid ourselves -- we surely haven't caught all the abusers exploiting children in our schools. In fact, Mark Berndt would probably still be at it if he'd perpetrated his crimes using a digital camera.
The last big sex scandal in this district involved an administrator who had shot the father of a high school student with whom he was having sex and was then transferred to a middle school where he sexually assaulted two girls!
It is beyond embarrassing -- to the school district, to educators everywhere, to all of us.
But sadly it just isn't that surprising that we would allow such a predator to do his damage.
The system itself is predatory -- paying only lip-service to the interests of children, too many of whom are warehoused and dehumanized in lieu of a real education. School districts and many charter school organizations are political entities which benefit the political and financial interests that lobby them far more than they benefit the students they are supposed to serve.
Until we figure out how to put the needs of children ahead of all else, how can we realistically expect to eradicate the savagery of individuals whose crimes differ only in degree from the public education system itself?