Student sexual abuse is an uncomfortable topic to discuss or address, but silence and inaction only allow the behavior to continue. While it didn’t occur here in Philadelphia, one recent case shows that schools and school districts that fail to respond to reports of student sexual abuse will almost certainly be held liable later on.
Three young students in Minnesota are suing their school district for its failure to respond to multiple, serious allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by a former gym teacher and hockey coach. The unnamed students are now 12, 13 and 14, respectively.
According to the lawsuit, the three victims were all elementary students at the time of the abuse; which meant they would have been approximately five to seven years old. Victims say they were sexually abused inside the gym teacher’s office.
The first complaint surfaced in 2008 when the mother of one victim told the school principal about the teacher’s inappropriate conduct. Despite the gravity of the accusation, no investigation was conducted. Another teacher at the school received a similar complaint during the 2009-2010 school year; yet the gym teacher kept his job and his unsupervised access to students.
In 2011 and 2012, two more incidents of inappropriate conduct were reported. According to news reports, the teacher resigned in 2011; presumably after the third complaint surfaced. It was not until January of 2013, however, that criminal charges were finally filed. One week after being criminally charged, the gym teacher committed suicide.
It is simply unacceptable that school and district administrators failed to take decisive action on multiple occasions. The safety and wellbeing of students should be the top priority of any school or district official. It is heartbreaking to think that this predatory gym teacher was allowed to continue abusing students simply because those with the power to intervene chose to bury their heads in the sand.
Sexual abuse of victims of any age must never be tolerated. Hopefully, these lawsuits will remind educators across the country that they have a duty to protect students as well as educate them.
Source: Northland’s News Center, “Bemidji School District Named in Three Sexual Abuse Lawsuits,” Krista Burns, Aug. 22, 2013