Monday, September 18, 2006

Not Trusting Teachers With The Truth In Washington State

A new law in Washington State requires that principals be notified when sex-offenders enroll in their schools but says nothing about informing the teachers:
Wendy Kimball remembers three times in her teaching career when she had a registered sex offender in the classroom and didn't know it.

Kimball, who has been a teacher for 20 years, had allowed one student to work alone in the library. If she had known about his background, she would have watched him more closely.

"I believe deeply that most children in middle school and high school know within a week the children in their midst who are sex offenders -- and the teachers don't," said Kimball, now president of the Seattle Education Association, the union representing teachers. "How is a teacher supposed to intervene and provide for a safe environment?"

A new law that went into effect Sept. 1 makes school officials aware if children in their classrooms have been convicted of sex crimes.

But some juvenile justice advocates worry that this law is unnecessary because state prison statistics show that juvenile sex offenders are much less likely to commit new crimes than anyone convicted of other felonies.

Still, the new law requires sheriff's offices to notify principals when a juvenile sex offender or convicted kidnapper wants to enroll.

Schools may not give parents information about other people's children. So only school employees will be notified.

"We tried to make it perfectly clear to principals that there are confidentiality laws. It's up to law enforcement to inform the public," said Kim Schmanke, spokeswoman for the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. "We're not there to inform parents or other kids, and we're especially not there to create hysteria and negativity, or chaos and the fear factor."

Seattle Public Schools doesn't keep a list of sex offenders and could not provide numbers, school officials said.
I accept (and even understand) the fact that a variety of "confidentiality issues" apply to youthful offenders.

But when it comes to their students, both administrators and teachers need to be trusted with the truth.

When information of this nature is withheld from teachers, (I realize that some principals may inform their staffs, but many may not.) the message that is sent to classroom teachers is, in our opinion, clear:
"We [your administration] don't really consider you teachers to be professional enough to maintain professional discretion when it comes to the students who are in your classroom everyday."
I wonder what Washington State's lawmakers would have to say if a teacher (who was not informed of a student's past criminal behaviors) was attacked or raped in the classroom?

Our guess is that the response would be along the lines of, "What a senseless tragedy..."

In our opinion, this would be one "senseless tragedy" that can (and should) have been avoided.

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