February 17, 2022

Manchin, Toomey Urge Department of Education To Protect Students From Sexual Misconduct

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) urged U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to provide answers regarding states’ failure to institute polices that protect students from educators who engage in sexual misconduct. For years, academic institutions across the country have engaged in a practice called “passing the trash,” which enables teachers with a history of abusing students to transfer schools without facing any consequences. When an educator is not disciplined for the sexual assault or abuse of a student, the educator is able to seek other educational jobs and continue the cycle of abuse at other schools. While most educators will never face these issues, allowing the continuation of this practice impacts the reputation of all educators.

“When parents send their children to school, they expect them to be safe. However, this is not always the case. A study published by the Department estimated around 10 percent of students experience sexual misconduct by a school employee. Even more concerning are the attempts by school administrators to cover the abuse up,” the Senators said in part.  

Senators Manchin and Toomey previously introduced legislation to amend Section 8546 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This legislation was later incorporated into the Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) Act and requires all states receiving certain federal funding from the Department of Education to enact policies, laws, or regulations to explicitly prohibit the practice of allowing teachers with a history of abusing students to transfer schools without facing any consequences. Despite this statutory requirement, three-quarters of all states have not yet enacted legislation while continuing to receive federal funding.

“This violation of the law must be addressed by the Department of Education immediately,” the Senators continued. “We must follow up with concrete action that starts with shielding students from predators in the classroom…We urge the Department of Education to take immediate steps to ensure that all policies to protect children are enforced, including the ESEA’s prohibition on Aiding and Abetting Sexual Assault.”

The following national education organizations applauded the Senators’ efforts:

“The Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s (ESEA) Section 8546 is a law that is good in theory but without effective enforcement does nothing to protect our children from sexual predators. Schools should be one of the safest places for children so they can grow and learn, but without adults doing the right thing and prioritizing the safety of the children they serve above all else, children will continue to be at risk in schools. CHILD USA shares the concerns of Senators Toomey and Manchin and asks the Department of Education to make sure these laws are enforced to keep sexual predators out of schools. Every child deserves a safe place to learn and grow,” said Jillian Ruck, Executive Director for Child USA.

“Every teacher, administrator, and school employee, and every state and federal education leader has a clear decision to make - protect children from sexual abuse or protect those who abuse them. One cannot choose both. By supporting comprehensive school policies to address child sexual abuse, we can transform the course of many children's lives, help abused children begin to heal, and best of all, prevent the devastating and often lifelong consequences of child sexual abuse on our children, their families and our communities,” said Jetta Bernier, Director of the Enough Abuse Campaign.

“Cases of school employee sexual misconduct continue to plague our nation’s students and offenders continue to be aided and abetted through negotiated agreements that conceal their offenses. 95% of educator sexual misconduct cases are handled internally (not reported to law enforcement or reported by the media.) . . . Sexual misconduct of students by school employees can impact their learning and academic achievement and result in life-long emotional, physical, and psychological consequences for victims, families, and their communities. It is incumbent upon the Department of Education to exercise due diligence to ensure protections are in place and people placed in classrooms are qualified and deemed fit to serve our children. The department must protect the rights of students to preserve an environment conducive to learning-free from harassment, discrimination and sexual misconduct. We must get away from a culture of silence and STOP sexual predation in its tracks. S.E.S.A.M.E. stands with Sens. Toomey and Manchin in their call for enforcement of ESEA Sec. 8546 and the release of the report from The Study of State Policies to Prohibit Aiding and Abetting Sexual Misconduct in Schools,” said Terri Miller, President of SESAME Inc.

The full letter is available here.