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Our opinion: Abuse scandals worth the worry

Formal charges against a Warren County School District teacher alleged to have had inappropriate sexual contact with a student are shocking.

There have been occasional instances of similar issues over the past several years. Those instances don’t appear to be widespread, and we hope district administrators continue dealing with any other suspected issues of sexual abuse by school staff swiftly and firmly.

But in the wake of sex abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America, one has to wonder just how widespread sex abuse in America’s schools really is. In 2018, roughly one in three educational administrators said that an employee had reported a case of sexual assault or harassment to them, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey. And, a 2020 data release of the last federal Civil Rights Data Collection showed a 55% increase in total incidents of sexual violence from 2015-16 to 2017-18 and a 53% increase in sexual assault over the same time period.

That’s why it’s good to see the Biden administration made the decision last year to continue asking questions about sexual misconduct by school staff in upcoming Civil Rights Data Collection surveys by the U.S. Department of Education.

The federal agency had begun asking such questions under President Donald Trump and former education secretary Betsy DeVos, and news that the federal government wasn’t going to collect the data was disappointing. Sweeping troubling data under the rug would have been a bad approach by the Biden administration, and it’s good the administration reversed the decision not to include sexual misconduct questions in its surveys.

But asking questions should only be the start. We can’t pretend to have a solution to prevent each and every case of inappropriate sexual contact involving adults and children. But the data shows a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away — so some type of new approach is needed.

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