Deja Vu: Sex Scandal from Arkansas

Published February 1, 1999

More than two years before Arkansas’ most famous son, President Bill Clinton, was impeached for lying about his “inappropriate” sexual relationship with a junior employee and for taking various illegal steps to cover up that relationship, a three-part special report on criminal activity among the state’s teachers, published in 1996 by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, discovered an “alarming” lack of protection for children involved in teacher sexual abuse cases.

According to Democrat-Gazette investigators, teachers accused of sexual misconduct with students were not held responsible and punished, but instead could depend on an “unwritten code of silence to cover up their actions, which may be repeated at their next school.”

In an investigation of how local school districts and the Arkansas Department of Education treated allegations of sexual assaults on students by teachers, reporters Mary Hargrove and Susan Roth found a “disturbing pattern” among Arkansas school officials to “sidestep legal and ethical issues to protect their schools from scandal.” Delays in investigating complaints provided ample time for accused teachers to apply for teaching jobs in other states while still holding valid Arkansas teaching credentials.

The newspaper’s investigation of school records and case files revealed that “sexual allegations by students have been greeted with shrugs, although a teacher’s personnel files indicated previous sex-related complaints. Sometimes only the teacher, not the student, was questioned and the accusation was set aside after the teacher’s denial.” In some cases, superintendents failed to call police even where there was corroborating evidence of felony violation of a minor. “What are we going to do if we have to worry about whether or not the teacher is going to do something to your boy or girl?” asked Richard C. Smith Jr., a former principal and former chairman of the Arkansas Board of Education. Smith told the Democrat-Gazette that a parent needs to have “that peace of mind that his child is always being protected and not being violated.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.

For More Information …

Education Week‘s librarian Kathryn Dorko suggests the following organizations and publications for readers seeking additional information on sexual abuse of students by school employees:

Survivors of Educator Sexual Abuse and Misconduct Emerge (SESAME)

Mary Ann Werner, 681 Route 7A, Copake, NY 12516
518/329-1265; fax 518/329-0127

Donna Covello, 77 Patterson Avenue, Hempstead, NY 11550
516/489-6406; fax: 516/489-6101

The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC)
P.O. Box 256, Bedford, MA 01730-0256
781/275-8839; fax: 781/271-1573
e-mail: [email protected]

“Sexual Harassment Guidance: Harassment of Students by School Employees, Other Students, or Third Parties”
U.S. Department of Education
202/205-5413 or 800/421-3481

“Hostile Hallways: The AAUW Survey on Sexual Harassment in America’s Schools” (1993)
The American Association of University Women, Washington, DC

“Responding to Complaints of Sexual Abuse: New Study Examines How School Districts Are Handling Allegations”
Charol Shakeshaft
The School Administrator, October 1994

“Sexual Abuse of Students by School Personnel”
Charol Shakeshaft and Audrey Cohan
Phi Delta Kappan, March 1995

“Sexual Harassment in Schools: Administrators Must Break the Casual Approach to Objectionable Behavior”
Nan D. Stein
The School Administrator, January 1993

Sexual Harassment Prevention: A Guide for School Leaders
Robert J. Shoop
Master Teacher Inc., Manhattan, KS (1997)

“Termination of School Employees: Legal Issues and Techniques” (1997)
National School Boards Association, Alexandria, VA