One of the key components of public education is the fact there should be a high level of public trust. The faculty and staff of our schools are entrusted daily with the lives and safety of our most vulnerable and impressionable citizens, the students.
As both a legislator and educator, I take that charge seriously and am aware their futures rely heavily on not only the education element, but also in our ability to provide a physically and emotionally safe environment.
It is with a heavy heart that I recently read articles outlining the rise in inappropriate teacher-student relations in Kentucky. It is a disturbing trend that has affected nearly every section of Kentucky, and indeed the nation, over the past few years.
These incidents have occurred with both men and women; in urban, suburban and rural areas; and in high schools, middle schools, and, most egregiously, even in elementary schools.
Data on inappropriate relations is thin. However, in a 2000 study by the American Association of University Women, it was reported that 10 percent of students between eighth and 11th grades felt they were the victims of inappropriate sexual conduct from a teacher or other school employee. Two-thirds of those respondents said there had been inappropriate physical contact.
It would be naïve to believe these types of situations have not always existed, but by no means should that be reason to excuse the completely inappropriate behavior in which some in our profession have engaged. For a member of a school's personnel to sexually abuse a child is inexcusable and a complete breach of the trust they have been granted.
There is no shortage of opinions on why there has been an increase in the reports of such incidents over the past decade. However, consensus seems to be that everyone believes measures should be taken to prevent this type of abuse, encourage victims to come forward, and educate both school personnel and students on the legal and psychological dangers of such activity.
It is with those goals in mind that I am encouraging the Kentucky Department of Education to establish a blue-ribbon task force to study this issue and make recommendations to the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board and local boards of education on any positive action that can be taken.
The students of Kentucky deserve our best efforts if we are to earn the public trust.