Stop predators in our schools

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — When police arrested a Boone County, W.Va., teacher last week, it brought to three the number of allegations of sex crimes against students by educators in that county, during just the past three months.

But a West Virginia State Police sergeant’s comment on that record should concern all Mountain State residents. Sgt. L.D. Hensley said it would be “a big stretch” to assume Boone County has a worse problem than other areas.

“It may just indicate an unseen epidemic in all schools,” explained Hensley, who works with the State?Police Crimes Against Children unit.

Wow. Let us hope Hensley’s speculation is not correct. If so, the word “epidemic” would seem mild.

The overwhelming majority of educators are good, dedicated men and women who would never do anything to harm children. To the contrary, many go far above the call of duty to help their young charges. Instances of teachers digging into their own pockets to help needy students and working far beyond time covered by their paychecks are common.

Still, ignoring the fact schools place predators in close contact with children would not be realistic.

On a reasonably regular basis, educators in the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio are charged with improper behavior toward students or other sex-related offenses. To their credit, law enforcement and school system officials appear to act decisively when allegations of such crimes come to their attention.

But the pressing question is how often predators in schools escape arrest because they go unreported.

One of the Boone County cases involves a high school principal who allegedly had sex with two students, one 17 years old and the other 18. According to a published report, criminal charges against the man were dropped when both students refused to testify against him.

In one local case, a school administrator was caught only after a student’s alert parents noticed questionable email exchanges between him and their son, and notified the authorities.

An adult authority figure able to victimize a child also has substantial power to convince the youngster nothing wrong happened and any sexual contact should be kept a secret.

That places a burden on other educators, a victim’s fellow students, parents, social workers and others who may learn of crimes against children. If Hensley’s comment is anywhere near accurate, West Virginia schools harbor predators who have not yet been brought to justice – and that needs to change.

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