Observation Of How Adults Interact With Students: Important For Student Safe Environments?

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Education

A 59-year-old male special education teacher, employed by a Burlington County, New Jersey elementary school (K-8) was charged with a "28-count indictment with 14 counts of sexual assault and 14 counts of endangering the welfare of a child".

This comes after a male student came forward in September 2023 accusing the teacher of inappropriately touching him last year during school in different classrooms. Authorities announced the arrest and asked any other victims to come forward. A total of 14 victims have been identified, and the abuse allegedly occurred over multiple years.

Initially, the accused was placed on administrative leave until the investigation was completed. Then, he was terminated after a Burlington County grand jury indicted him on 28 charges. Max Bennett and Josh Bakan, "Special Ed Teacher From Philly Molested 14 Students", www.thepatch.com (May 24, 2024).

Commentary and Checklist

The abuse in the above article took place on campus, in classrooms. Proper management of school physical premises can help helping protect students.

School facilities should be safe – safe from physical injuries, ranging from faulty gymnasium equipment to being safe from sexual misconduct and crimes.

All interactions between adults and students should be observable by other adults at all times.

Here are additional ways schools can help prevent staff misconduct with students:

  • To prevent misconduct, make sure your school policies clearly outline appropriate boundaries for interactions between staff and students.
  • Be intentional in your hiring practices, and strictly follow a comprehensive screening procedure for all workplace participants, even those with personal recommendations.
  • Always include background checks, including criminal checks, child safety, and verification of certifications and personal references.
  • Establish clear behavioral guidelines and expectations, and hold all staff members to these guidelines regardless of their position.
  • Regularly train all staff members on your policies. Incorporate real-life examples when appropriate.
  • Require workplace participants to report any suspected staff misconduct.
  • Provide multiple reporting methods. Using a third-party reporting method helps achieve an objective and prompt response.
  • Incorporate into employee training information on your state's mandatory reporting laws, including when and how to report to your state's law enforcement.
  • Thoroughly document all procedures to promote student safety.
  • Make sure you have sufficient numbers of adults at all times to watch students, but also to observe how other adults interact with students.
  • Establish boundaries for digital communications. Do not allow digital communications between staff and students that do not include the students' parents and/or guardians.
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