EDITORIAL: The Clark County School District needs a renewed sense of urgency when it comes to teachers and sexual misconduct

In the past three years, 31 employees with the Clark County School District have been arrested on charges of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior involving students. The district’s lack of urgency regarding this abomination is astounding.

In a three-part series published last week in the Review-Journal, reporters Meghin Delaney and Amelia Pak-Harvey document a system struggling to deal with child predators, who sometimes float from school to school. District officials make excuses about litigation or union contracts to explain their feeble reaction.

“We have to make sure that we are handling it appropriately so that we would always prevail in those situations,” said Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky about the district’s failure to fire teachers or staff members accused of misconduct.

In fact, it is precisely this attitude — misplaced caution in the face of a serious problem — that exacerbates the matter. By rolling over rather than aggressively responding to cases of sexual misconduct, the district telegraphs loudly and clearly that it doesn’t consider the issue a top concern.

The controversy isn’t unique to Clark County. A USA Today report in 2016 concluded that, “Despite decades of repeated sex abuse scandals — from the Roman Catholic Church to the Boy Scouts to scores of news media reports identifying problem teachers —America’s public schools continue to conceal the actions of dangerous educators in ways that allow them to stay in the classroom.”

But the issue seems to be particularly acute in Southern Nevada.

Ms. Delaney and Ms. Pak-Harvey highlight a local case involving John Stalmach, a teacher at Dailey Elementary, who was arrested in 2012 for having sex with a 16-year-old Basic High School student. Rather than fire him, district officials told Stalmach that if he resigned, they wouldn’t include the matter in his personnel file, which could have allowed him to eventually land a job with another district.

This is unconscionable.

While there are no easy answers here, the Clark County School District must act quickly and decisively to restore the trust of the families it serves.

At a minimum, that will require putting aside misplaced concerns about legal outcomes and acting quickly and decisively to get rid of teachers who engage in sexual misconduct. That also involves getting law enforcement involved at the first sign of trouble. And while background checks are no panacea, district officials might consider more comprehensive reviews of applicants, including a check of social media sites.

In addition, it is disturbing that district officials have yet to beef up training or policies for teachers and staff on sexual misconduct, particularly regarding social media. It’s simply not appropriate for teachers to “friend” students online or to engage in playful text messaging with teenagers. While such instruction may not stop a determined pedophile, it could at least help others become more adept at identifying the warning signs.

Finally, district officials should engage the Clark County Education Association in an effort to ensure contracts don’t protect those who abuse children. Certainly union officials — and the district — have an interest in protecting teachers who are falsely accused. But that can be achieved without union friendly codicils that serve to shield predators by limiting, for instance, relevant information in a personnel file.

Children of the district deserve better — and they deserve it now.

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