NewsTue Feb 19, 2008 - 12:15 pm EST
US School Districts Cover Up Teacher Sex Abuse with Confidential Agreements and Payouts
By Hilary White
SALEM, Oregon, February 19, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - An exposé by the Oregonian daily newspaper shows that US teachers who sexually abuse their students are often given a pass into other teaching jobs as a cost-saving measure.
A search for the phrase "sex abuse cover-up" in the Google internet search engine produces news reports almost exclusively focused on the Catholic Church. But advocates for sex-abuse victims have long known that the problem of persons placed in authority abusing minors is far from being restricted to clergy.
The Oregonian reported yesterday that in some US school districts teachers found to be abusing students are being paid off with letters of recommendation, cash settlements and health insurance in confidential agreements, in return for a quiet immediate resignation. In the agreements, district officials promise not to tell potential employers of the teacher’s past misconduct.
Kenneth John Cushing was a recipient of one of these pacts, and left Claggett Creek Middle School in 2004 after allegedly molesting some of his female students. The Oregonian obtained a copy of the deal in which school officials promised not to reveal Cushing’s behaviour to prospective future employers.
The paper says it has obtained 47 similar confidential settlement agreements between district officials and teachers.
The document said school officials would mention "personal reasons" for Cushing’s resignation and make "no reference to this agreement". Cushing’s license was eventually revoked in 2005 by the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.
Another teacher, Stephen John Koller, who left his job at Illinois Valley High School, was found to be living with a 17 year-old student. Three Rivers School District offered Koller $10,000 in severance, six months of health insurance and a letter that said, "He is personally committed to his work and will work extra hours to be successful."
The paper reports that in the past five years, "nearly half" of Oregon teachers disciplined for sexual misconduct left their schools with such pacts. The practice is well known throughout the country, with officials nicknaming it "passing the trash".
Out of 767 cases of teacher misconduct over the past ten years 165 cases were sex-related offences, making them the most common.
The Oregonian writes that confidential agreements came into use because of economic pressure, and officials admit that the agreements are the cheapest and fastest way of getting a problem teacher out of a particular school. One of the deterrents to firing teachers who are caught molesting students outright is expensive court battles with the unions. Keeping a teacher on paid leave while the teacher is under investigation can also be costly.
Hillsboro Superintendent Jeremy Lyon told the paper, "The whole world of reference checks has become a legal arena. You are in a precarious place if you say anything positive or negative about a past employee."
The paper cites several systemic reasons for the problem of teachers abusing students, including enormous backlogs of investigations that can extend up to a year, inconsistent reporting methods, inadequate background checks on potential teachers, and the fact that older teens are not protected under state laws.
But victims’ rights advocates say that such agreements undermine the ability of victims to come to terms with abuse, and perpetuate the problem. The Oregonian quotes Mary Jo McGrath, a school law attorney and sexual abuse expert in Santa Barbara, California, who said, "The secret deals are one of the main things that keep the wheels greased on the machinery that keeps passing around the molesters."
The secret deal solution may be short lived, however, as victims sue. Similar deals in California were dropped by school boards when the state Supreme Court ruled that districts can be sued for having them. In the 1997 case of a 13-year-old student who was sexually molested by a middle school vice principal in Livingston Union School District, the Court ruled that the girl could sue the three districts who had previously employed the man for fraud and negligent misrepresentation after all three districts had offered him confidential agreements.
In 2004, a report from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights revealed that teachers are more likely than priests to sexually abuse minors. The report said that previous studies from the early 1980’s to 1991 showed that one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused by a teacher by age 18. Another revealed that 17.7 per cent of males who graduated from high school and 82.2 per cent of females reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff during their years in school.
To read the original Oregonian report, see: