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KipMcFarlinArticle from USA Today

After high school football coach Kip McFarlin was accused of using sexually suggestive language to students and telling one he’d date her if he were younger, the Orangefield Independent School District in Texas wanted McFarlin gone. But the district didn’t fire him. Or report him to police. Or inform teacher licensing officials, despite a state law requiring a report.

In 2005, district officials found a way to give him “a graceful exit,” and send him off with a clean record, which he used to get another teaching job. Six years later, at a school in Port Arthur, Texas, he had sex with a 16-year-old student and was later convicted of sexual assault.

A USA TODAY Network investigation found dozens of teachers with hidden histories of sexual misconduct working at schools or in other jobs with access to children, where supervisors knew nothing of their pasts. In several cases, there were tragic results. Illinois elementary school students were forced to eat off a teacher’s crotch. Five elementary school students were sexually molested in New Jersey.

Hiding sexual misconduct, enabling perpetrators to move on, is so common among school systems that there’s a name for it: “passing the trash.” And yet even though educators and child advocates have long known about the problem, existing laws have failed to end the practice. Efforts to pass new laws have been thwarted, at times by teachers’ unions or have missed the crux of the problem.

For instance, some congressional lawmakers have pressed for a federal government database of school personnel fired for sexual misconduct to prevent them from getting new jobs. Such a database — which could also be maintained by a private group, such as the one for school superintendents — would help. But it  would work only if other underlying problems are addressed first. Among the most basic:
  • Some schools fail to make even the most rudimentary pre-hiring checks. A private Louisiana high school hired a teacher who was a registered sex offender in neighboring Texas. Students looking on the Internet stumbled upon the listing. Even so, the school did not report him and gave him a positive recommendation. He went on to teach at a public school until a parent accused him of sending sexually inappropriate emails to a student.
  • While more than 40 states have laws requiring school personnel to report sexual abuse, district and school officials either flout them or find ways to sneak through loopholes. That’s what happened with McFarlin after the school district’s lawyer advised officials not to report to the licensing agency because he “is not guilty of abuse or an unlawful act, just inappropriate and stupid remarks.”
  • School districts sometimes go further than just passing the trash, sending predators along with neutral or good recommendations, or signing agreements to hide files alleging misconduct. One reason? To avoid the hassle of trying to fire union-protected teachers, which can cost more than $100,000, even with a “slam-dunk case,” as one administrator told the Government Accountability Office in 2010.

What’s to be done?

States need to broaden definitions of what must be reported to include sexual misconduct, not just alleged criminal acts. And while more than 40 states provide penalties for failure to report, the laws are seldom enforced. They should be.

A federal law, passed a year ago, requires states to pass a law or regulation to prohibit allowing educators accused of sexual misconduct to leave without a record of the allegations. Three states already had such laws, but only two — Texas and Connecticut — have passed new laws this year. In Connecticut, the effort met with resistance from teachers’ unions.  The Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers argued that the proposal “overreached” and could  prevent “negotiating separation agreements and could potentially result in a flood of teacher termination hearings.”

Certainly, teachers accused of misconduct deserve due process, but no public employee deserves a free pass on sexual misconduct, much less the opportunity to strike again. Every state should comply with the federal law.

Finally, laws and regulations aside, nothing will improve until every educator decides that where sexual misconduct is suspected, failure to report or keeping secrets is morally unacceptable. Until that happens, laws will not prevent more children from being hurt.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.

If you or someone you care about was sexually abused and you would like advice from an attorney about the rights and options for victims of child sexual abuse, please contact Crew Janci LLP today for a free, confidential consultation at 1-888-407-0224 or by using our private online form.  We will treat you with discretion and respect.

You are not alone.  We are here to help.

Andria Seo

Andria Seo is an Associate Attorney at Crew Janci LLP. Andria is a graduate of the New York University School of Law. During law school, she worked with the National Center for Youth Law, the Legal Aid Society, and the NYCLU. Prior to joining the team at Crew Janci LLP, Andria advocated for vulnerable children and their families as a staff attorney at Partnership for Children’s Rights, a nonprofit based in New York City. Andria also previously worked assisting in the representation of victims of a terrorist attack in civil suits. Andria moved to Portland in 2016 and joined Crew Janci LLP in 2017. She is admitted to practice in Oregon and New York