What can school districts do to help thwart sexual abuse by coaches?
State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles has some ideas.
The Seattle-area Democrat and former California educator said she was "stunned" to
learn Washington law doesn't require schools to check whether a prospective
coach or teacher has a sexual-misconduct history. The law says only that
schools "may" check for such complaints — and many schools
simply don't, a Times investigation found.
Kohl-Welles has been trying to change that. Last legislative session, she
proposed a bill that would have required school districts to ask previous
employers for a teacher's or coach's sexual-misconduct records before hiring
him — and the previous district would have been required to provide
that information within 20 days.
The bill also would have prohibited schools from entering into settlement
agreements with teachers and coaches promising to keep sexual-misconduct
complaints secret. It never got to the floor for a vote.
She plans to introduce a similar bill in 2004.
"There is no reason school districts should have sexual misconduct taking
place," she said.
Rocky Jackson, a Yakima lawyer who has represented school districts for
20 years, has another idea. His concern is the high cost of firing a teacher
who has committed sexual misconduct.
In Washington, when a coach fights a firing, a district has to keep paying
him — and a substitute — until a hearing officer rules that
the school district was justified.
" If you're going to fire somebody, they're fired," Jackson proposed. "They
don't get any more money, they don't get anything. If they prove you
wrong later on, they get their back pay. Just like when you fire anybody else
on the street."
But the law can't do everything that's needed, other experts said. What's
really necessary is a change in attitude among school officials, said Stephen
Rubin, chairman of the Whitman College psychology department and a co-author
of a book on teacher sexual misconduct.
Schools need to set down — and enforce — clear guidelines
on when and how it may be appropriate to touch students or spend time
with them, he said.
If teachers and coaches know that inappropriate comments or touching won't
be tolerated, they're less likely to cross the line, Rubin said.
Detective Joe Beard, who's in charge of sex-offender notification for
the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, said that school administrators — as
well as parents — need better training in identifying and acting
on signs of sexual abuse. And school officials also need to follow state
law that requires them to report suspected abuse to police within 48