Last week, Steven R. Battles, a former elementary school teacher in Springfield, IL was sentenced to seven years in prison for sexually abusing one of his former students. He was first charged in February, 2011 for the abuse that took place between 1999 and 2002.
The Battles case is typical. There is nothing remarkable about it. It could be used as a case study of why our public school system has become a safe haven for pedophiles like him. The only thing unusual about his case is that he got caught. Most don’t.
Charol Shakeshaft, a professor of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, has spent her career studying our educational system. In 2004 she authored a report, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, which focused on the sexual exploitation of children by teachers. Although the findings were shocking, it didn’t get much attention. What little it got, didn’t last.
The report was issued in the midst of the furor over revelations about the sexual abuse of children by priests and the orchestrated cover-up by their bishops, so maybe her revelations simply were drowned out. According to Dr. Shakeshaft the sexual abuse of students in public schools was “100 times greater than the abuse by priests.” Additionally, Shakeshaft reported that 9.6 per cent of children are sexually abused by educators sometime during their school years. The media was largely silent about these small details.
Public ignorance about the details and scope of this problem have contributed to its persistence and even to its growth. Ignorance is never good. Moreover, educators and school officials have been as active in covering up the problem, if not more so, as the Catholic hierarchy has been in covering up the problem of pedophile priests. At least the Catholic Church has disclosed not just convictions, but also accusations. In the case of schools, secrecy prevails even after charges have been filed.
Battles was known to be a problem for years before he was finally dismissed by the Springfield School District in 2009. It was an internal investigation commenced in 2005 by the school district that finally led to his dismissal. He promptly appealed that dismissal, with the help of his union. The dismissal was still under appeal when he was arrested two years later.
For almost his entire 17 year career, Battles engaged in inappropriate behavior with children under his care and most likely abused more than a few of them. Complaints about him triggered several transfers to other schools. He drew criticism for sitting next to children and putting his arm around them, giving them back rubs, talking to them about sexual situations—his own and the children’s, he gave money—as much as $50—to some male students as birthday gifts. These are classic grooming behaviors, but when called to task by officials, Battles was defiant and was able to maintain the backing of his union enablers.
After Battles was arrested, he had the unbelievable audacity to file a defamation suit against his accusers. That case was sealed (as was the criminal case) by the judges involved in order to “protect” the victims. The civil case reportedly was secretly dismissed about a year ago. (There are better ways to protect victims without resorting to Star Chamber justice.)
Depraved teachers like Battles, impotent school officials, indifferent union functionaries and the uninformed public collectively have created a school system that is unsafe for children. More and more rules have been put into place with little effect other than to make the system absolutely hostile. Good teachers can’t even comfort a crying child or celebrate with them using any physical touch. This is wrong.
When it comes to the safety of our children union rules that protect teachers must be made null and void. Clearly observed grooming behaviors, violations of rules intended for the safety of the children, teachers who flaunt their promiscuity, or who watch pornography on school property, should be dismissed immediately. Only the virtuous should be allowed the privilege to teach. The secrecy surrounding accusations against teachers needs to be lifted. And administrators need to grow a spine.
Most of all, the ignorance about this issue should end. The public has to become fully informed and retake control of our schools. Only they can hold the school boards, administrators and teachers to account.
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