A school district in Maryland made a commitment last year to create what administrators hope will be a safer educational environment for kids. According to a recent Washington Post report, that commitment paid off in spades during the 2015/16 academic year. The report notes that the school district in Montgomery County received hundreds of reports about suspicious or questionable behavior from staff. Many of these reports led to disciplinary action and other steps that administrators believe will help to make the school safer for the 2016/17 academic year.
In 2015, the now-former superintendent of the Montgomery County school system launched an initiative to fight child abuse in and around the district. The initiative was a response to a string of sexual abuse allegations involving district teachers. The stated goal was to increase awareness of abuse in the district as well as to help students, teachers, parents, volunteers, and other individuals spot abuse red flags and report them to proper authorities.
According to the Washington Post report, there was a total of 3,347 reported incidents during the 2015/16 school year. That number is more than twice what it was in 2014/15—a potential sign that more people are speaking up when they notice something suspicious. One-tenth of those reports involved school district employees. The rest of the reports of neglect named parents, relatives, or caregivers as the potential abusers.
Of the 3,347 reports, 345 involved the school district. 338 alleged abuse at the hands of employees, and seven concerned contractors and volunteers. 338 employees is 0.15% of the Montgomery school system workforce, which has 22,000 employees and serves 156,000 students.
80% of those cases required "official action” ranging from addition training exercises to disciplinary measures. 40 cases involved serious disciplinary measures, including 14 suspensions without pay and 26 terminations. When the Washington Post asked a child sexual abuse expert about the statistics, she said that 26 employees being terminated in a single year for abuse incidents was "an astounding number."
In cases in which employees were terminated or resigned amid abuse allegations, the Montgomery County school system did not dismiss them quietly. One of the big problems cited by administrators regarding abuse in school districts in recent years has been the "pass the trash" trend, in which districts allow accused abusers to resign quietly and find jobs in other schools without consequence. On at least seven occasions this year, the Montgomery County district informed the state about abuse allegations and asked for the teaching licenses of the involved educators to be rescinded or suspended.
The district plans to expand its anti-abuse reforms by adding new background checks and educating parents about how to spot signs of abuse. The district started adding extra background checks in 2016, starting with volunteer chaperones on overnight field trips. Volunteers will be a focus during the 2016/17 school year as the district employs new background checks to spot potential threats and offers increased training to help volunteers identify and report abuse.