'Passing the trash': Teachers accused of sexual abuse aren't always unemployable
Serial sexual assault accusations in Hollywood prompted the “Me Too” movement, but schools are not immune to this kind of abuse.
Teachers that had been barred from working at public schools because of sexual assault allegations in Chicago went on to work at charter schools, according to a recent report.
The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) published the report last week that found 168 CPS employees, 98 of those teachers, had been put on a “Do Not Hire” (DNH) list in the district, but were working at charter or contract schools in the city.
And of those almost 100 teachers, 3 had been fired from schools in the district because of sexual abuse accusations.
“The very thing that the Catholic church has been vilified for for decades, for passing priests from parish to parish, is happening in our schools today," Terri Miller, President of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation, said.
Miller said the practice of quietly moving an educator accused of sexual assault from their current position at a school and allowing them to get another job at a different school is called “passing the trash.”
Washington state was the first to pass a law prohibiting this practice, and since Oregon, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Connecticut and most recently Nevada have passed similar laws, according to Miller.
“The laws enhance their hiring practices, their vetting practices and prohibit the passing of them from one jurisdiction to the next by banning the use of those confidentiality agreements, reporting them up to their state departments of education, flag them as unsafe educators so that they can’t gain access to another classroom again," Miller said.
Federal action was also taken in 2015 with the Every Child Succeeds Act, which prohibits “aiding and abetting sexual abuse,” by preventing schools that receive Title II funding from helping a school employee get another job if that employee was let go for sexual misconduct with a minor.
“This problem of educator abuse is really widespread. It's not like it happens rarely, and that to prevent for this "passing the trash," it has to be a record of these occurrences of sexual abuse of students so that you don't have this repeating pattern," Joel Levin, Ph.D., co-founder of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, said.
About 1 in every 10 students experiences sexual abuse during their school career, according to a 2000 study by Dr. Carol Shakeshaft from Virginia Commonwealth University, which both Miller and Levin said is the most recent study of it’s kind.
According to the report, one of the teachers had been fired and put on the DNH list after abusing two students at his home and one at school. CPS said they told the Illinois State Board of Education that the teacher was fired for “child abuse,” but it was unclear if the teacher’s license had actually been revoked.
“There has to be more accountability basically. For both the school who is firing the person, making sure that the state agency, or certification agency, is aware of it so that this person has a record," Levin said.
The charter schools said they were unaware that the teachers had been put on a DNH list because the list had not been shared with them.
After the investigation, the OIG recommended developing a policy that would allow this list to be shared with charter schools and also the reason these employees are on the list.
In a statement, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools said, “Charter schools have not had access to the Do Not Hire list, but are required to run independent background checks for all staff, which they have done. We will work with our member schools to make certain that they take all appropriate actions to ensure high-quality staff.”
INCS also said they are going to ensure they get access to the DNH list from now on, which CPS reiterated in their own statement after the report was published.
“CPS announced today that it is requiring charter and contract schools to utilize the district's rigorous background check process, which allows CPS to disclose DNH designations to school operators. Improving information sharing with our partners is a priority for the district, and we are committed to making significant improvements in this area,” CPS said in the statement.
According to the report, the three teachers no longer work at the charter schools.