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  • Avee Harmes

Predators in Plain Sight: The Dark Side of Teacher Shortages and Child Safety

As we all know, the teacher shortage is no new subject. It has been happening for decades. However, this teacher shortage is not only a threat to education, but also puts students at risk of sexual assault. Instead of finding college-educated teachers to hire in full-time teaching positions, schools are hiring staff with no educational background whatsoever. “Long-term substitutes" are hired in these cases. Sometimes, it leads to permanent teaching positions because schools simply cannot find teachers who already have proper certifications.


This is happening all over the country. According to one substitute teacher, “it’s just a higher paying babysitting job." In some cases, these positions come with medical benefits and retirement plans, despite these teachers not being properly equipped for the job. The teacher shortage is having a profound effect on students' reading, writing, and math skills.


This is also making life harder on parents who have no choice but to send their children to a public school. Private schools are no better, at this point.


Certified teachers are leaving at an alarming rate. Further analyses reveal the deep politicization of this issue. According to politically progressive teachers, this has to do with government restrictions on teaching gender ideology in the class and the infamous "book bans" being implemented around the country, which remove pornography from the school libraries. For teachers who are more conservative-leaning, the opposite trend has been noted – they do not feel comfortable teaching children all of the social justice material found in the widespread "Social-Emotional Learning" school curriculum. On both sides of the political spectrum, salary and job benefits also play a big role in teachers deciding to leave. A decent number of teachers have even taken an early retirement in order to leave the profession.


Map of teacher shortage in the United States (ABC News, 2023)

Now, there are plenty of capable people who didn’t go to school to be an educator, who can educate kids better than the ones who graduated college. Aside from concern for the education of this next generation, there is deep concern about all the children that will be put in situations to be sexually assaulted now that almost anyone can become a substitute teacher.



Of course, there are procedures in place to conduct background checks and drug tests. According to the National Education Association (2022), all 50 states and the District of Columbia require criminal background checks. 35 states have adopted at least one other provision aimed at preventing school staff who are known or accused with probable cause to have engaged in sexual misconduct with a student or minor. In 2006, an investigation by The New York Times sought to uncover the truth about groomer networks. Material was gathered from conversations that took place amongst groomers in virtual chat rooms like Internet Relay Chat (a text-based system allowing for real-time communications), message boards on Usenet, and on websites that cater specifically to groomers. A number of self-described teachers shared detailed observations about children in their classes, including events they considered sexual, like a seven-year-old holding his crotch during class. They make use of technology to bring their arguments into real-life situations, like sharing printable booklets for children which highlight "the benefits of sex with adults." One groomer noted that he likes being a DJ because of the "high concentration of gorgeous children" at his events. A pediatric nurse said that the job involves “lots of looking but no touching." A piano teacher said the same. One conversation revealed that someone's motivation for working at a water park was to spend all day looking at children in their bathing suits. There was even a pediatric gynecologist who chose this profession in order to satisfy his paraphilic fantasies. This was frightening to read.


In April 2006, as summer drew near, two separate online pedophile groups discussed potential job opportunities at summer camps. One group inquired about girls' camps that might hire adult males as counselors, while another group celebrated a member's job offer as a counselor in a girls' cabin at a sleep-away camp. These conversations took a disturbing turn with comments like "hope you get to see some girls in your cabin" and "good luck restraining yourself from doing anything."


These individuals presented themselves as advocates for children's rights, comparing their cause to the civil rights and LGBTQAI+ movements. They argued that they meant no harm to children and that their conversations were merely that – conversations. Some even claimed a spiritual connection to children, suggesting that children's consent was irrelevant.


However, these conversations consistently circled back to justifying inappropriate interactions with minors and discussing child pornography. They celebrated abuse as demonstrations of love, claimed that children were psychologically capable of consenting, and argued that therapists manipulated young individuals into believing they were harmed by such encounters. Authorities disagreed, stating that these discussions could lead to harmful fantasies and eventually real-world crimes.


In hindsight, from 2006 to the present, it is clear that this was indeed the case. This led to the emergence of the term "Minor Attracted People" abbreviated as "MAP." This is not only disturbing, but also deeply offensive. Our non-profit, Gays Against Groomers, is dedicated to protecting children from these groomers, while these individuals aim to harm children.


In the same vein, a U.S.News article from June 2022 reported that nearly 1 in 10 students are groomed and abused by school personnel during their academic careers. This statistic was based on a 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office. The report also revealed that most states lack requirements for school personnel to receive training on awareness and prevention of inappropriate behavior, despite the desire for such guidance.


Over a seven-month investigation by the Associated Press, examining disciplinary records from the 2001-2005 school years in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, it was found that the teaching credentials of 2,570 educators had been revoked, denied, surrendered, or sanctioned due to abusing minors. More than 80% of the 1,801 cases involved students as victims, with girls being the majority. Disproportionate risks were observed for black and Hispanic children. In most instances, inappropriate behavior occurred at the hands of teachers, coaches, bus drivers, and substitute teachers.


Graph of projected teacher shortages (Dan Goldhaber & Roddy Theobald, The 74)

Children with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual and mental health disabilities, were at a significantly higher risk due to difficulties in reporting what happened to them. Shockingly, there is no national database keeping track of these incidents. It is estimated that 95% of cases are handled internally and go unreported to law enforcement or the media.


These concerns are exemplified by the case of Shane Brent Murnan in Oklahoma, a 52-year-old man hired as an elementary school principal despite a 2001 charge for possessing child pornography when he was 30. Murnan created a "Drag Queen Story Hour" organization in Oklahoma, putting himself in close proximity to children. Charges against him were ultimately expunged, allowing him to retain his teaching certificate. This is just one of many instances where school systems have failed to protect children from potential predators.


Shane Brent Murnan, a school principal and drag queen who was charged with possession of child pornography.

To address this issue, the Department of Education has called for stricter state-level laws to prevent school systems from shielding teachers accused of being child predators. States are urged to enact more stringent laws, regulations, and policies to prevent such individuals from gaining employment in other schools.


Addressing this problem begins with awareness and open discussion. Children should be taught to speak out about potential abusers, foster safe environments, and encourage parental involvement in schools. Stricter laws and policies must be enacted in order to prevent adults with a history of sexual misconduct towards children from working in schools. The safety and well-being of our children are paramount, and we must work collectively to protect them from the predators who have not yet been caught.


As disturbing as it may be, pedophiles may hide among us, including within our neighborhoods, schools, and social circles. Awareness is the first step in handling this alarming issue. We must pay closer attention and be proactive in protecting our children. Though it is a daunting task, it is a responsibility we cannot ignore. The world needs to know that inappropriate behavior is a global problem, and responsible Americans need to work together to prevent it.



REFERENCES


ABC News. (2023, February 11). Most of the US is dealing with a teaching shortage, but the data isn't so simple. Retrieved October 12, 2023, from https://abcnews.go.com/amp/US/map-shows-us-states-dealing-teaching-shortage-data/story?id=96752632


Dan Goldhaber & Roddy Theobald (The 74) Opinion: Sorting Out the Issues in the Teacher Shortage Crisis. The 74. https://www.the74million.org/article/article-opinion-sorting-out-the-issues-in-the-teacher-shortage-crisis/


U.S. Department of Education. (2004). Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf


The New York Times. (2002, June 18). Silently Shifting Teachers in Sex Abuse Cases. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/18/us/silently-shifting-teachers-in-sex-abuse-cases.html


National Education Association. (2023, September 24). Sexual Violence in Schools. Retrieved from https://www.nea.org/nea-today/all-news-articles/sexual-violence-schools


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