Protecting Students from Sexual Abuse in the School Setting
My name is Marina Diambri, I am an education law attorney. I dedicate my practice to the representation of parents and students in the educational setting. Given recent events that have arose from our community, I understand that there has been a growing concern about child safety and the potential for sexual abuse in schools. As an education law attorney who has worked extensively with parents and school districts, I want to assure you that your concerns are valid, and it is crucial to take steps to ensure the safety and well-being of our children. It is of the utmost importance that we work together to address these concerns and to protect our children in the educational environment. Here are some key points and steps to consider:
1. Open Communication:
Maintain open lines of communication with your child. Encourage your child to share their experiences and concerns with you. Although a public school has an obligation under Erin’s Law to implement a child sexual abuse prevention program with students grades pre-kindergarten through 5th grade, parents should teach their children about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, ensuring they know they can confide in you if something feels wrong.
2. Know the School Policies:
Familiarize yourself with your child’s school policies on child safety, reporting procedures, and background checks for staff. If these policies are not readily available, request them from the school administration. The school’s policies and procedures for sexual misconduct must be in accordance with Illinois law. According to 105 ILCS 5/22-85.10, a school district must notify parents of sexual misconduct. This means that the governing body of each school district must implement a procedure under which notice is provided to parents/guardians of an enrolled student that are 17 and younger with whom a school district employee, agent of the school district, or a contractor of the school district is alleged to have engaged in sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct is “any act, including, but not limited to, any verbal, nonverbal, written, or electronic communication or physical activity, by an employee or agent of the school district…with direct contact with a student that is directed toward or with a student to establish a romantic or sexual relationship with the student.
These actions can include, but are not limited to:
(1) sexual or romantic invitation;
(2) dating or solicitating a date;
(3) engaging in a sexualized or romantic dialog;
(4) making sexually suggestive comments that are directed toward or with a student;
(5) self-disclosure or physical exposure of a sexual, romantic, or erotic nature;
(6) a sexual, indecent, romantic, or erotic contact with the student.
It is important to note that repeated violations of staff-student boundaries can be indicative of the grooming of a student for sexual abuse.
The procedure that the governing body implements must include:
(1) Consideration of the time frame for providing notice to the student and the students’ parents/guardians if the alleged sexual misconduct is also being investigated by IL DCFS.
(2) Prior notification of the student’s parents or guardians, notification must first be provided to the student in a developmentally appropriate manner and include:
a. That notice will be given to the student’s parents or guardians;
b. What information will be included in the notice to the student’s parents/guardians;
c. Available resources for the student within the school and community in accordance with Article 26A of this Code and available counseling services under Section 3-550 of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code; and
d. Beginning July 1, 2025, the name and contact information for the domestic and sexual violence and parents resource coordinator.
(3) After notification of the student, the student’s parents or guardians shall be notified in writing:
a. Of the alleged misconduct; and
b. Of available resources for the student within the school and the community in accordance with Article 26A of this Code and, beginning July 1, 2025, the name and contact information for the domestic and sexual violence and parenting resource coordinator.”
The governing body of each school district also must implement a procedure under which notice is provided to the parents/guardians of a student when any formal action is executed by the governing body concerning the employment of the alleged perpetrator following the investigation of sexual misconduct, which can include whether the individual’s employment was terminated or whether a resignation was accepted. These procedures must be in alignment with the above mentioned procedures.
3. Attend Parent Meetings:
Participate in school meetings and parent-teacher associations. This can help you stay informed and engaged with your child’s school and its safety measures.
4. Background Checks:
Advocate for comprehensive background checks for all school staff and volunteers. Ensure that the school adheres to state and federal laws regarding staff qualifications and screening. According to the Schools Safe Act, the Attorney General of the United States can conduct a fingerprint-based checks of the national crime information databases pursuant to a request submitted by a private or public elementary or secondary school, or educational agency in the state. 105 ILCS 5/10-21.9 states that any licensed and non-licensed applicants in the state of Illinois are required as a condition of employment to authorize a fingerprint-based criminal history records check to determine if that applicant has been convicted of any disqualifying, enumerated criminal or drug offenses within 7 years of the application for employment.
5. Ask Questions:
Don’t hesitate to ask questions of the school administration or school board regarding the school’s measures to prevent sexual abuse. Seek clarification on how they handle allegations or reports of abuse.
6. Promote Awareness:
Engage with other parents, such as those within the Parents Care community, to raise awareness about child safety and the prevention of sexual abuse. A strong, informed parent community can be a powerful advocate for change.
7. Report Suspected Abuse:
If you suspect any form of abuse or inappropriate behavior, immediately report it to the school administration and, if necessary, law enforcement. Your child’s safety should always be the top priority.
8. Legal Representation:
In cases where your child’s safety is compromised, or if you feel that the school is not adequately addressing your concerns, consult with an education law attorney, such as myself. I can help you navigate the legal aspects of protecting your child’s rights and ensuring a safe learning environment. It is important to remember that schools have a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure the safety of all students. Your concerns and active involvement as parents are essential to holding them accountable.
I understand that this is a sensitive and challenging topic, and I am here to support you and provide legal guidance if needed. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or require assistance. I am here to champion your child’s educational rights, protect their interests, and ensure they receive the best possible education. Let’s work together to ensure our children’s safety and well-being in the school environment. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions or if you need an advocate for your child.