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Issue Date:  November 16, 2007

Investigation finds faulty child protection

By NCR Staff

The Associated Press published a series of articles last month detailing the results of a seven-month investigation into sexual misconduct among educators across the United States. Drawing on public records from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and then months of reporting by AP state bureaus, it is an extensive, unprecedented look at sexual abuse of minors by teachers.

AP found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, voluntarily surrendered or limited from 2001 through 2005 after allegations of sexual misconduct.

But the investigation also found a system stacked against the victims.

“Beyond the horror of individual crimes, the larger shame is the institutions that govern education have only sporadically addressed a problem that’s been apparent for years,” the lead article of the investigative series said.

The article quotes Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating misconduct in schools. “From my own experience -- this could get me in trouble -- I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one,” McGrath said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s urban or rural or suburban.”

There are 3 million public school teachers and 50 million students nationwide.

The lead article says: “Most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can’t be proven, and many abusers have several victims.

“And no one -- not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments -- has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.”

An Iowa case illustrates the problem.

Jennah Bramow, a 20-year-old single mom and waitress in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, sued her city’s schools for failing to protect her from accused teacher Gary C. Lindsey.

She eventually won her suit, but the trial revealed that Lindsey had been forced out of his first teaching job in Oelwein, Iowa, in 1964, after admitting he’d fondled a fifth-grader’s breast. He moved on to schools in Illinois and eventually settled in Cedar Rapids.

The trial uncovered evidence of abuse accusations from a half-dozen more girls and their parents, along with reprimands from principals that were filed away, explained away and ultimately ignored until 1995, when allegations from Bramow and two other girls forced his early retirement.

Even then, he kept his teaching license until the Bramows filed a complaint with the state. He was never charged criminally.

The AP investigation discovered, “overall, a deeply entrenched resistance toward recognizing and fighting abuse. It starts in school hallways, where fellow teachers look away or feel powerless to help. School administrators make behind-the-scenes deals to avoid lawsuits and other trouble. And in state capitals and Congress, lawmakers shy from tough state punishments or any cohesive national policy for fear of disparaging a vital profession.

“That only enables rogue teachers, and puts kids who aren’t likely to be believed in a tough spot.”

Arthur Sensor, the former superintendent in Oelwein, Iowa, who vividly recalls pressuring Lindsey to resign in 1964, regrets that he didn’t do more to stop him back then.

Now, he says, he’d call the police.

“He promised me he wouldn’t do it again, that he had learned. And he was a young man, a beginning teacher, had a young wife, a young child,” said Sensor, now 86 years old. “I wanted to believe him, and I did.”

The major findings of the AP investigation include:

  • A total of 2,570 educators nationwide were punished for sexual misconduct from 2001-2005, representing about a quarter of all educator misconduct cases in that time period.
  • Licenses were revoked in 1,636 of the cases; surrendered in 440 cases; suspended in 376 cases; and denied in 108 cases. Other punishments were handed out in the remainder of the cases.
  • Students were clearly identified as victims in at least 1,467 of the sexual misconduct cases. The victim was a young person, a category including students, unidentified youths, family members and neighbors, in at least 1,801 of the cases.
  • Educators made physical contact in at least 1,297, or 72 percent, of the cases in which the victims were youths. The remainder were cases that did not involve physical contact, including verbal sexual harassment and other offenses.
  • There were criminal convictions in at least 1,390, or 53 percent, of the cases.
  • Nearly nine out of 10 of the educators punished for sexual misconduct were male.
  • At least 446 of the cases that the AP found involved educators who had multiple victims.

The overwhelming majority of documented cases involved public school teachers, since many private schools don’t require a teaching license. Even when they do, their disciplinary actions are not a matter of public record.

National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007

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