Mayor Bloomberg and state Sen. Stephen Saland have taken an important first step to better ensure the safety of New York schoolchildren by proposing legislation to make it easier to fire educators who commit sex offenses. But we also need a national approach.
I strongly encourage New York’s Legislature to pass the common-sense Bloomberg bill as quickly as possible. But the root of the problem is that both teachers unions and local school districts protect and hide predatory teachers. Until we fix that, we can’t end the cycle of abuse and coverup.
That’s why a growing national coalition of nonprofits, victims-rights groups, teachers and parents are urging Congress to pass the Jeremy Bell Act (HR 3766), which would finally provide true protection for our children.
Nationwide, millions of students are being put directly in harm’s way, as teachers unions and school districts often protect the predator instead of the child.
It’s an all-too-common practice, known as “Passing the Trash”: Perpetrators not only evade arrest, they’re helped to quietly move to another unsuspecting school district — where they will abuse again. Often, these educators come with glowing recommendations and clean records.
According to the US Department of Education, nearly 1 in 10 students is the victim of educator sexual misconduct sometime during his or her K-12 academic career. That works out to nearly 4.5 million students.
Yet abusive educators are often allowed to remain teaching. In one study of 225 cases of educator sexual abuse in New York, only 1 percent of the abusers lost their license to teach.
Nationwide, the typical offender employed in our schools makes his or her way through three different school settings before being stopped. In California alone, 667 teachers statewide were reportedly cited for serious misconduct since 2003; only 83 of them were dismissed.
In New York City, we’ve seen a 37 percent rise in cases of sexual misconduct in recent months — among them, a gym teacher accused of groping a student, a high-school substitute accused of forcible touching and an aide accused of making child-pornography videos on school grounds.
A different report on sexual abuse in the city schools found that 60 percent of employees who were accused of sexual abuse were transferred to desk jobs inside schools — and that 40 percent of these teachers were repeat offenders.
When predators go unprosecuted, the results can be deadly. Take the deeply disturbing case of Jeremy Bell, the victim for whom the federal bill was named.
The 12-year-old West Virginia boy was sexually assaulted and murdered in 1997 by Principal Edgar Friedrichs Jr., a known sex offender who’d been passed through multiple Pennsylvania schools before surfacing in Jeremy’s.
Friedrichs had been accused of predatory behavior in at least six schools. Yet each time he got to leave quietly — with his teaching credentials intact and a recommendation in hand. And so he went from classroom to unsuspecting classroom, coming in contact with hundreds of potential victims.
Statewide efforts are a crucial piece of the puzzle, but we need national standards to fully protect our kids. To end educator sexual misconduct, we must hold officials accountable, close the gaping loopholes and tighten states’ fragmented reporting laws; the Jeremy Bell Act does all that.
Of course, we must preserve due process for school staff, but that process must not be used to obfuscate and deliberately delay justice. The conspiracy of silence has to end — protecting a known offending teacher must not overrule protecting the innocent.
Today, too many of these accused educators are allowed to quietly walk away, with union-negotiated separation agreements that place gag orders on administrators and allow educators to sanitize their personnel files: no record, no trace of previous accusations and no facts to be uncovered by background checks. This must end.