For many decades, reports have surfaced about those responsible for guiding or caring for children, who have instead abused them. Scout leaders, clergy, childcare or health-care providers, coaches — all have made headlines for the predators among them and, as importantly, for those who knowingly enabled them. Whether out of some misguided personal allegiance or fear of ruining their group’s reputation, far too often the same sad story has emerged, of higher-ups either allowing abuse to continue or quietly dismissing the predator, freeing them to go elsewhere and continue to harm children.
These systemic cases are especially egregious, as the authorities who cover them up are in a position of power to stop the abuse cycle and spare future victims, and yet don’t.
Before we expand on this topic, let us note that these cases, even the most extensive, are outliers; those involved have constituted a small minority of the profession. The great majority of priests are not pedophiles; nor are coaches, Scoutmasters, doctors and such.
Of all the groups of adults regularly entrusted to shepherd children, teachers hold a special place. Aside from parents themselves, teachers are the adults with whom almost all children are mandated to spend great lengths of time, often without other adults present. And while cases of physical, mental or sexual abuse of students are relatively rare, they do occur.
Unacceptably, the norm in such cases has too often mirrored that of other professions; even in cases where the abuse is substantially proven, teachers have been dismissed quietly, allowed to go elsewhere and pick up where they left off. The cases the public hears about — often the most egregious — usually become known because someone outside the schools makes it known, through a lawsuit or by going to the news media.
We’d like to say that New Hampshire has resolved this situation in a way that keeps bad apples out of classrooms, or, at least, lets everyone know when such cases occur. That hasn’t happened.
However, the state did take a step in the right direction last week, when Gov. Sununu signed into law omnibus education legislation. Sponsored in part by Stoddard Sen. Ruth Ward, Senate Bill 147 gives the state Department of Education unfettered access to the database of the Division of Children, Youth and Families through which those applying for teaching credentials can be vetted. That central registry of credible reports of abuse and neglect is where the state tracks such complaints. It is, as far as we know, the only place such findings are collected; the Education Department itself doesn’t do it.
It’s hardly a panacea for keeping abusive individuals out of classrooms, but it is progress in that direction.
Of course, it only applies to those seeking state certification as teachers, and many of the same officials who supported the bill, including Ward and Sununu, also pushed hard to pass a broad expansion of the state’s school voucher program that seeks to move more students into private schools that may not require such certification.
But why quibble? The part of SB 147 that makes it easier to vet abusers among New Hampshire teachers — the bill also requires high school seniors to fill out federal student aid forms as a graduation requirement, sets aside funds for small towns to access when they have unexpected special education costs, and lets schools contract with transportation firms for activities outside of school separately from those that bus kids to and from class each day — is a positive move toward protecting New Hampshire children.