My inbox fills up this time every year with emails from panicked parents who write and ask me if their school is a safe place for their kids. Sometimes, I can give parents a history of accused or arrested predators who have worked or volunteered at a particular campus, but that usually doesn’t tell the whole story.
Abuse and cover-up thrive because of an administrative and organizational attitude. “Safe environment” programs and background checks are useless unless this attitude is changed from the top down AND the bottom up.
But how do you know the attitude of your school?
I do not provide answers to the questions I give below. You will see that many of the positive and negative scenarios I pose apply equally to public and private education. My goal here is to create a discussion and and a starting point for parents who—for way too long—have simply not known the right questions to ask. While there are no right or wrong responses, your answers will clue you in to your school’s “attitude” and whether or not it is a place where transparency, accountability and child safety can thrive.
Questions to ask yourself about the safety of your child’s school
1) Are pastors, teachers and/or administrators hired without input from parents?
2) Does campus leadership have to answer to an off-site administrator? If so, are problems dealt with swiftly, openly and according to the law and common sense … or behind closed doors? Are wrongdoers held accountable?
3) Is there someone on campus (a priest, rabbi, etc) who has an implied, religious or real power over students and staff? If this person is disobeyed, is it considered a sin or an affront to God?
4) Are parents discouraged from being on campus?
5) Has there been a recent large turnover of teachers and administrators beyond normal attrition, pregnancy and retirement?
6) Have other issues been handled “in secret” because of a fear of scandal or the concern that people “just won’t understand”?
7) Have there been incidents of embezzlement at the school? How long did it go on? (Embezzlers often feel that they are ‘owed’ money for work they do above and beyond the call of duty. In many cases, it’s because they have covered for the crimes of others. Also, in numerous cases in the Catholic Church, predators have embezzled money to pay for gifts for victims, trips and to cover their tracks.)
8) Does “zero tolerance” only apply to students? Or only to SOME students?
9) Have there been rumors of the harassment of parents who complain or of teachers who raise red flags? Have you been able to substantiate these rumors?
10) Have you done a google news search of the school, including the search terms “lawsuit” and “arrest”?
11) Do you just have a gut feeling?
12) Have long-time families left the school and enrolled their children elsewhere?
14) Is the school open to new ideas and input?
15) Are administrators dogmatic when they should be flexible?
16) Are teachers easily transferred or removed with little to no explanation to parents.
17) Is your school considered a “dumping ground” for bad teachers and administrators?
18) Are teachers retained solely to to tenure or union affiliation?
I could provide explanations for these questions, but that would make this blog post a book-length manuscript. If you have specific questions, please leave them in the comments.
I realize that many parents to not have educational options for their children. But the more we address the issues, the more we can empower parents to demand safe and transparent schools.