Springfield, IL… State Representative Margo McDermed (R-Mokena) joined other representatives in introducing legislation to protect students around the state from sexual abuse and to create new statewide mandates to ensure accusations against educators are handled properly. A recent Chicago Tribune investigation found that Chicago Public Schools improperly dealt with investigations into educators accused of sexual abuse or assault and in some cases failed to act. It also found that they conducted inept background checks, which led to the hiring of educators with red flags in their records. In addition, CPS admitted that they do not have a standard protocol for investigating reports of sexual misconduct, which resulted in the significant failures in the way individual schools and the district handled cases of sexual abuse.
“There were failures at every level here; at the individual schools, at the district offices, and in state law,” Rep. McDermed said. “The Tribune’s investigation revealed that yet again victims were ignored and abuses were mishandled. It is an all too common story that has absolutely no place in our schools. It is unacceptable and we need to take action to prevent anything like this from happening again.”
House Bill 5914 will require school boards to report all credible cases of sexual assault or abuse by a licensed educator to the State Board of Education, to establish a hearing procedure for student victims, and to ensure that a licensed educator under investigation by the State Superintendent of Education is reassigned to non-classroom duty. The bill mandates that the Illinois State Board of Education must be aware of, and monitor, the process with regards to each individual background check conducted by school districts. It further allows a school district to divulge internal investigative findings and discipline to another school district. Modeled off a Florida law, the bill would also make it a criminal offense for an authority figure to engage in sexual conduct or sexual relations with a student, regardless of age. Under current law, it is not a criminal offense if the student in question is 17 years or older. As reported in the Tribune: “Athletic coaches are “a particular area of concern,” for CPS.
The Tribune found that of the 72 cases in which employees and volunteers were accused of sexually abusing or assaulting students in Chicago Public Schools since 2008, 11 were coaches. Even more had dual roles as teachers and coaches. Earlier this year, Rep. McDermed filed legislation to strengthen the reporting requirements in Illinois Child Abuse and Neglect Act. Rep. McDermed filed the legislation after news investigations into national athletic programs found that individuals within those organization failed to act when faced with accusations and evidence against coaches and others in power.
House Bill 5131 increases the criminal penalty for any person who knowingly violates reporting requirements of abuse or neglect from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class 4 felony. It further states that anyone who does so as part of a cover-up or to protect a person from prosecution commits a Class 3 felony. According to the Tribune, no Chicago school employees have been charged with failing to report sexual abuse allegations to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, as required by state law.
“It’s clear that we are not doing enough to protect our children from predators; whether it is in school or after school at programs where we entrust adults to take care of them,” Rep. McDermed said. “We need stronger state laws and consequences for those that don’t mandatorily report.” HB 5914 was filed by State Representative David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills).