COLUMBIA, SC – October 14, 2008 – State Superintendent of Education of Education Jim Rex today renewed his call for the South Carolina General Assembly to pass comprehensive legislation to address the incidences of adult sexual misconduct in schools. Rex said the legislation must address both preventative measures and penalties for these crimes.
“Though there are just a few of these incidents, it’s always an outrage when one of our children is put in harm’s way,” Rex said. “The ramifications for the students, their families and their communities are painful and long-lasting.”
Last year Rex, Attorney General Henry McMaster, the South Carolina Department of Social Services and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division convened a group of experts to examine current laws and make recommendations to strengthen them. But the legislation that resulted, which called for stiffer penalties for adults who use their positions to conduct themselves inappropriately with young people, stalled in the General Assembly.
Today, Rex renewed his call for legislation that would:
- Increase the penalty for any school employee or volunteer who has sexual relations with a student.
- Increase the age of consent from 16 to 18 years old for students for sexual relations with any school employee or volunteer.
- Allow access to the statewide DSS registry at no cost to school districts when they believe further investigation is needed about any individual seeking employment or already employed as a teacher, volunteer, employee or other paraprofessional.
“The General Assembly should make this one of its top priorities in 2009,” Rex said. “The most important thing we can do for children is to protect them from harm, so we should do everything in our power to identify and discipline adults who violate the trust we place in them.”
Beyond advocating legislation, Rex has introduced new initiatives aimed at curtailing inappropriate relationships between educators and students.
This year South Carolina became the first state in the nation to develop a statewide training program focused on preventing adult sexual misconduct. The Education Department established a partnership with Darkness to Light (D2L), a nationally noted nonprofit organization, to address this issue. The result is an initiative that will train 10,000 teachers, guidance counselors, administrators and other school staff in preventing and responding to incidences of sexual misconduct. Several school districts are funding training for all of their employees, and the Education Department and D2L are seeking additional funding to expand the program.
Colleges of education are integrating misconduct prevention training into their educator preparation programs. Winthrop University has taken the lead, mandating that all teacher candidates participate.
In addition, the Department is finalizing a supplement to the Educator Standards of Conduct that will focus on preventing adult sexual misconduct and sexual exploitation of children.
For more information on Darkness to Light, go to http://www.darkness2light.org.