Two U.S. senators have sent a letter to the Biden administration’s education secretary urging him to look at the issue of the sexual abuse of K-12 public school students.
U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona asking him to provide answers regarding states’ failure to comply with Section 8546 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which addresses the “aiding and abetting” of sexual abuse of students in K-12 schools.
“When parents send their children to school, they expect them to be safe. However, this is not always the case. A study published by the Department estimated around 10 percent of students experience sexual misconduct by a school employee. Even more concerning are the attempts by school administrators to cover the abuse up,” the Senators said in a press statement.
The senators say that despite the legal requirements in ESEA, “three-quarters of all states have not yet enacted legislation while continuing to receive federal funding.”
That “aiding and abetting” is often referred to as “passing the trash” in education circles. The senators’ letter also makes reference to “passing the trash.” That phrase encompasses the process by which districts or schools allow a teacher with accusations against them or questionable behavior to simply resign and then be re-hired or reassigned to a different school or seek employment unfettered in another district.
North Carolina legislators enacted a law to try and curb “pass the trash” activities by requiring a resigning educator or education employee to give a 30-day notice. If that resignation is tied to criminal activity, an arrest, or criminal charges, the district is required by law to notify the N.C. State Board of Education. See the statute excerpt below:
This website has tracked teacher arrests for several years under the moniker of “Quiet Epidemic,” the majority of which have a sex crime component related to minors or children.
During the calendar year 2021, 24 North Carolina public school staffers and 15 individuals were arrested that worked in either a charter school, a non-public school, or a person who was in a non-teaching role. In years prior to the pandemic, the number of arrests captured by this website was much higher, often at between 55-65 per calendar year. In 2019, there were 65 public education employee arrests logged.
Included in the letter to Cardona is also the reference to the previously mentioned study that says at least 10 percent of students are victims of sexual abuse by an education staff member during their K-12 careers.
The study mentioned by Manchin and Toomey focuses on incidents that occurred during 2014. Specifically looking at “five geographically and demographically diverse districts that experienced an incident of school employee sexual misconduct in 2014.”
That same study was reported on by this website in 2018. That study, commissioned by the Department of Justice, also notes the concept of “pass the trash” but in a different manner. Here’s that section, emphasis added:
Many of the unreported cases were handled in unofficial ways; school administrators sometimes seek to avoid the consequences of reporting by entering into confidentiality agreements or negotiating private settlements with offenders (Shakeshaft & Cohan, 1994; Shoop, 2004; Stein, 1999). Furthermore, collective bargaining clauses often allow for scrubbing of personnel files, so no record is left once an offender leaves the system. These practices, allowing known sexual predators to quietly leave the district, potentially to seek work elsewhere, have become known as “passing the trash” or “the lemon dance” (Hobson, 2012). With no criminal conviction or disciplinary record, predators can obtain new jobs—and move on to other victims. On average, a teacher-offender will pass through three different districts before being stopped, and one offender can have as many as 73 victims in his or her lifetime (GAO, 2010).
Another excerpt from this website’s 2018 article on the study:
To put that 10% into a real number, as of 2017, there were nearly 51 million PreK-12 students in the United States. If the study had included Pre-K, 10% of that 51 million would be 5.1 million kids.
The report makes an important point early on in the first section, which is that there are “no national surveys currently collect incident data on school employee sexual misconduct and there is no comprehensive, searchable national database to manage and track reported incidents.”