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October 26, 2014

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Teacher sex case shows need for better laws

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The case surrounding two Clark County teachers who allegedly had sex with a 16-year-old student is disturbing on a number of levels; perhaps most alarming is the fact that there is nothing stopping them from doing this again.

Despite evidence of sexual misconduct, John E. Stalmach and Bambi M. Dewey will not face sexual abuse charges because they were not employed at the same school that their alleged victim attended. A loophole in Nevada law allows teachers and students to have sexual contact, so long as the student is of age and the teacher does not have direct authority over him or her.

It is very common for predatory educators to begin the grooming process when a student is not of age to consent and then continue to hold them emotionally captive until they are no longer at risk of punishment under the criminal statute. We must close the gaping loopholes that allow predators to circumvent the law.

Furthermore, now that the School Board has chosen to accept the teachers’ resignations rather than terminate them, there is little recourse for revoking their teaching credentials. This means they could easily pursue employment at another school district, perhaps in another state where their case has not made headlines.

Unfortunately, this case is not an isolated incident.

Every year, thousands of students are sexually exploited by the teachers entrusted with their care. In fact, it is estimated that one in every 10 students across the nation will encounter sexual misconduct during his or her school career, a number that equates to roughly 4.5 million K-12 students. At least a quarter of all U.S. school districts have dealt with one or more of these cases in the past decade.

Loopholes in state and federal law have weakened safeguards for students and, thus, perpetuate the problem. In many cases of sexual abuse, perpetrators not only evade prosecution, they are permitted to quietly resign, sometimes with glowing letters of recommendation from their former employer and their teaching credentials intact.

They often wind up in another unsuspecting school district, where they will have the opportunity to offend again. In fact, it is estimated that a predator will make his or her way through at least three schools before being stopped. This phenomenon is so common it has become known in education circles as “passing the trash.”

That appears to be exactly what happened in this case. Media reports have uncovered that Stalmach had been brought up on similar charges at a Henderson high school where he allegedly texted a student and showed her pornographic images. According to reports, the incident was investigated and Stalmach was subsequently suspended and transferred to another school.

This is simply unacceptable.

Disturbing stories like the one in Clark County must do more than shed light on the systemic failure of schools to protect students; they must drive us toward meaningful reforms, both at the state and federal levels. We must close loopholes in state law, as well as enact federal legislation that will punish school officials who pass the trash and revoke the teaching credentials of any educator who is found to have committed sexual misconduct against a child.

The bottom line is that no child should be robbed of his or her innocence by an adult. We as a society must do everything in our power to ensure that child predators never make their way into a classroom and never go unpunished when they have committed the unconscionable offense of child sexual abuse.

Terri Miller is the president of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME). She is based in Las Vegas.

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  1. Columnist is right. We entrust our most valuable possessions with people we don't know and haven't been vetted. Teachers should receive psychological and academic testing to ensure they are qualified mentally, emotionally, and academically to teach our students. And the testing should be redone every 5 or so years during their careers. To weed out the least and keep the best.

    CarmineD

  2. This is not a loophole. It was deliberately changed during the legislative process to specify that the teacher must be at the school where the student attends. Ms. Miller knows this because she was closely involved with the bill when it was proposed. The reason for the change was because the bill was intended to target exploitative relationships between teachers and their students. Without the potential for exploitation, the reason for the bill evaporates.