TEXAS VIEW: The ‘silent’ danger students face in schools

By Longview News-Journal

Since the tragic murders of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, this nation has been in a discussion concerning how to keep students safe in our schools.

The debate has been both formal and informal, between legislators and between neighbors.

Such discussions at all levels are important, and we hope they lead to substantive changes that, at long last, start to make a difference.

Our children deserve to feel safe in their classrooms, and it is up to all adults — not merely school leaders — to see that becomes a reality.

These discussions have been about guns, of course, and while we would not diminish the need for that, guns are not the only threat our children face daily in class.

The other danger does not make a sound at all, and often we do not ever know it has done harm. It does not kill but it can change the life of a student forever. This threat is from teachers or other school staff members who cross the line to become sexual predators.

Just as the overwhelming majority of gun owners would never consider going on a murderous shooting rampage, only a tiny percentage of all school employees would prey upon students.

The threat is very real, however. One only has to keep up with the news to know that.

Just this month we heard of another student who had become a victim of a coach and physical education teacher. He was not the first in our area, either. Many of our school districts have seen at least one such predator charged in connection with an improper relationship with a student.

Those are just the ones we know about. Some of these people are undoubtedly successful in keeping their relationships secret.

Both men and women have been charged with such crimes across Texas, and frequently it seems that part of the lure these predators use is access to drugs.

As preventing gun violence in schools is vital, so is reducing the ways these predators can get students into improper relationships.

Solving this problem isn’t going to be easy, either, but there are some steps that can be taken by school districts to tighten what staff members can get away with. Unfortunately, those also would have to apply to the many who would never do wrong to stop the few who would.

Districts can forbid employees from direct personal electronic messaging with individual students. All texts or other messages would have to include at least one other school employee. Failure to follow this rule could lead to termination.

Schools can forbid the use of Snapchat and similar smartphone apps that do not keep permanent records in communications between employees and students.

Schools also can strengthen rules designed to prevent one student and one employee being alone together, including giving students rides home from an activity.

The Legislature, for its part, can make laws against improper relationships even stiffer than they are.

The punishment for this crime must be such that it stays uppermost in a predator’s mind.

There are certainly other steps that would be beneficial, but just doing a few of these can help stop some of the opportunity these predators are looking for.

This isn’t as volatile as the gun debate. Action can be taken now. There is no need to wait.