Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lembke: School districts' practice of passing trash with sexually abusive teachers is common

Apparently, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, is not the only one willing to twist the facts in order to malign public school districts and classroom teachers.

In a report on the recently-concluded special session issued today, Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, pushes the same misleading statistics and assertions that Mrs. Cunningham used to get SB 54 passed in the first place.

Also successful in passage was Senate Bill 1, more commonly referred to as the "Facebook Fix." This measure came to be because of challenges found in Senate Bill 54, which was signed into law earlier this year. This new law created the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which is named for a Missouri woman who was continually molested and assaulted by her junior high school teacher while she was in school. The teacher was employed by several school districts before winning a "Teach of the Year" award before retiring.

The practice of sexually abusive teachers moving across the state is so common that the Missouri Department of Education has termed the phrase "passing the trash," meaning quietly passing the abusive educator from one district to another, typically signing confidentiality agreements to not disclose the problems to another district seeking reference information and often times even paying a severance.

In a national investigation by the Associated Press in 2007, sexual misconduct in public schools was found to be at least six times more prevalent than the priesthood scandal that was so highly publicized. Studies show that Missouri is the 11th worst state in the nation for educators their licenses because of sexual misconduct. This is unacceptable.

All education organizations and teacher groups supported this bill that passed both the Missouri Senate and House unanimously during the regular session. After some teacher groups expressed concern about the social media interaction portion of the new law, some changes were brought about in Senate Bill 1.

Current law requires each school district to adopt written policies concerning teacher-student and employee-student communications by Jan. 1, 2012. Current law also requires those policies to include restrictions on educators' use of both work- and non-work related Internet sites.

Senate Bill 1 changes the requirements that must be included in each school district's policy by repealing the existing components and requirements, instead leaving those decisions to be made at the local level. School districts must adopt written policies concerning employee-student communications by Mar. 1, 2012.

Senate Bill 1 repeals the prohibition on a teacher establishing, maintaining or using a work-related Internet site unless it is available to school administrators and the child's parent. It also repeals the prohibition on a teacher establishing, maintaining or using a non-work related Internet site that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.

Lembke says that the practice of "passing the trash," or allowing a teacher who has sexually abused a student to move from one school to another is common in this state. Perhaps at one time it was, but the legislature addressed this problem in the mid-90s, adding extra layers of protection that made SB 54 totally unnecessary. The assertion has been made that the trash passing took place because school officials feared lawsuits from fired teachers. Those would be far easier to deal with than lawsuits from the families of sexually abused students if school districts allow teachers to resign quietly and then continue to abuse students at other schools.

To top it off, Lembke parrots Mrs. Cunningham's slanderous comments that the sexual abuse problem among Missouri teachers is six times greater than the abuse uncovered in "the priesthood scandal."

And finally, he uses Mrs. Cunningham's tired oft-repeated comment that an Associated Press survey showed Missouri had the 11th highest number of teachers lose their licenses because of sexual abuse.

What neither Mrs. Cunningham or Lembke ever mentions- obviously because it would not fit in with the anti-teacher message they are trying to send- is that Missouri's number was high because the measures that were enacted in the mid-90s, with the support of teachers across this state, are working. We are finding these people who bring disgrace to our profession and making sure they never set foot in a classroom again.

Our numbers are higher because many states have swept these problems under the rug and have no mechanism in place to deal with them.

Instead, self-serving politicians like Jane Cunningham and Jim Lembke have used Missouri's success in getting rid of these predators as a club with which to continue the type of teacher-bashing that has become prevalent in this state and in this nation over the past few years.

And the anti-teacher grandstanding is being accomplished with the help of a media that has never once challenged the assertions made by Mrs. Cunningham, Lembke, or the others who have made a parlor game of attacking classroom teachers.

At best, the media calls some representative of MSTA or MNEA to get a response. The more common response has simply been to print the allegation and let it stand as truth.

Lembke also offers the misleading comment that the Facebook portion of SB 54 was repealed after teachers complained about it. Yes, teachers did complain and my voice was one of the loudest, but we were also supported by many parents, students, and members of the general community who saw Mrs. Cunningham's bill for exactly what it was, a labeling of all Missouri classroom teachers as perverts lying in wait for unsuspecting children.

With comments like those made by Lembke in his report, it appears that teachers will still be under the gun when the 2012 session begins.

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