By: Ruth Ryder, Deputy Assistant Secretary
Education leaders have no greater responsibility than ensuring student safety and well-being in school. Across the nation, these leaders have worked tirelessly over the past two years to maintain services that are vital for student wellness; to safely reopen schools; and to set conditions for a strong, equitable academic recovery. It’s been the Department of Education’s privilege to partner every step of the way in this effort.
But school safety goes beyond health and protection from the pandemic. Last week, we saw, yet again, innocent children and dedicated educators killed in the very place they should feel safe – their school. As a parent and grandparent, I am filled with grief for the families and students and concern that as our schools move past pandemic closures, the fear of shootings has become all too real once again. Each of us has a responsibility to work towards commonsense measures to protect our children against gun violence and meet our collective responsibility to keep our students and educators safe in school.
In addition to our commitment to protecting students from health and safety threats described above, each of us has statutory, professional, and moral responsibilities to protect students from sexual abuse and sexual predators. Earlier today, the Department released a report and published resources underscoring that priority – specifically the requirements for states and schools to protect students from the consequences of assisting or “aiding and abetting” school employees in obtaining a new job if they are known or believed with probable cause to have engaged in sexual misconduct with a student or minor. While nearly all educators act with extraordinary care and professionalism, many state-level policies and practices can and must be strengthened to ensure greater protections for our young people.
The Department’s study reviewed state policies adopted under Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Section 8546 requirements, outlining the responsibilities states have in protecting students from “aiding and abetting” practices. This study draws on document reviews and interviews with state level officials to examine state policies with respect to hiring practices, disclosures by prospective and former employees, and the application of state laws and policies to employment activities. As the report notes, Section 8546 requirements have spurred state-level policy change to better protect students; however, gaps in many of these policies and variability in policies between states remain significant challenges. Although Section 8546 requires states and local educational agencies to enact laws, regulations, or policies prohibiting aiding and abetting sexual misconduct in schools, this same provision bars the Department from prescribing the manner and form of these laws, regulations, or policies.
To underscore states’ obligations in addressing this critical issue, and to support states’ efforts to meet ESEA’s requirements, the Department is taking the following actions:
- The Department is issuing a fact sheet that summarizes key findings from the national study.
- The Department is identifying and disseminating examples of ways that states have designed, implemented, and evaluated their laws, regulations, and policies and practices in this area.
- The Department will host a July 20, 2022, webinar for state and local leaders to highlight important practices in the areas of employer disclosure and information-sharing among educational entities. Please stay tuned for registration and other information.
Alongside these efforts, the Department will monitor each state’s laws, regulations, or policies to determine compliance as it relates to Section 8546 of the ESEA, with a focus on meaningful protections for students. If the Department identifies instances of noncompliance through its monitoring, we stand ready to work with states through training, differentiated technical assistance, and more intensive supports or enforcement actions. These efforts to provide additional assistance respond directly to requests states made as part of the study for the Department to identify and share examples of policies and practices states are using to meet the requirements of Section 8546 of ESEA.
The Department encourages states to review the report, accompanying fact sheet, and A Training Guide for Administrators and Educators on Addressing Adult Sexual Misconduct in the School Setting, developed by the Department’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center to help inform state-level work to address the requirements of Section 8546 of the ESEA.