Create and Enforce Conduct Guidelines And Oversight To Better Protect Students

A school district in the state of Washington reached a settlement agreement in a lawsuit that involved allegations of student sexual abuse by one of its former teachers. The district will pay the plaintiff one million dollars as part of the settlement.

The accused worked as an art teacher and cheerleading advisor. The plaintiff in the case claimed that when he was 14, in 1981, the teacher groomed him by becoming friendly and inviting the boy to spend time with him after school. The after-school encounters soon developed into repeated sexual assaults on school grounds, and continued for over a year.

Earlier this year, two other former students filed a lawsuit against the district that included sexual abuse allegations against the same teacher. The district also settled that case, paying the victims $3.5 million. In both cases, the plaintiffs argued the district violated state law that says school districts can be held liable for the discriminatory conduct of staff members, including sexual misconduct. Jake Goldstein-Street "Marysville to pay $1M to another former student for alleged sex abuse" (Dec. 06, 2022).


Commentary and Checklist

Conduct guidelines and oversight are essential for improving student safety, including prohibiting or closely monitoring one-on-one staff interactions with students. In addition, schools should provide staff training that is detailed and clear with regard to behavioral expectations, and conduct training on an annual basis. Include in training a review of “red flag” situations that could indicate that abuse is occurring, and outline the process for reporting concerns.

Encourage staff members to come forward if they suspect misconduct, and remind them of their responsibility as mandatory reporters to directly, personally inform child protection agencies and/or law enforcement of any abuse they hear about or witness.

The following additional suggestions can help you strengthen your efforts to protect students and avoid liability risk:

  • Make sure your conduct policy clearly states that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated and administrators will monitor the school daily for inappropriate behavior.
  • Specify in your training what types of verbal communication and touching are acceptable - allow praise, encouragement, and pats on the back, but prohibit racy jokes, sexual comments, pats on the buttocks, or intimate touching. Monitor classrooms for prohibited speech and physical contact.
  • Prevent grooming by prohibiting employees from singling out students by showing favoritism, giving certain students gifts, or spending more time with a certain student. Monitor for favoritism and talk to teachers that spend more time with certain students.
  • Train administrators annually on what to watch for when checking the school for sexual abuse. Provide administrators with strategies to steer teachers' behavior if they witness potentially inappropriate, but not prohibited, behavior.
  • Create a clear reporting mechanism and address all reports of misconduct consistently.
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