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Citing repeated “staff and student relationships,” Evergreen Public Schools has upped its training for district employees on identifying and avoiding predatory behavior.
The district this year required most staff to sit through an in-person workshop with risk management company Clear Risk Solutions on sexual misconduct and grooming behaviors, according to public records obtained by The Columbian. A video of the training was shared with coaches and some classified staff, and will also be shown to new employees.
The expanded training comes after Columbian reporting in 2018 revealed that the school district has responded to more cases of sexual misconduct involving educators than other districts in Clark County. In multiple cases, those staff had shown previous warning signs that they were engaging in predatory behavior involving children.
Jenae Gomes, the district’s human resources director, approached the Ephrata-based company in March asking staff to lead a workshop on educator misconduct.
“I need to put additional training and safe guards in place system wide (all staff) due to the number of staff to student relationships of both boundary invasion and grooming behaviors we have been experiencing,” Gomes wrote to Clear Risk Solutions, adding, “I do know that we need more than just a quick overview.”
The district said it made the request after yet another employee was investigated for “a potential grooming/boundary invasion issue.” The employee, who district officials did not identify, is still employed by the school district.
“The investigation did not find the need for outside action (such as involving law enforcement) but did result in the employee being given a letter of reprimand,” district human resources staff said by email.
The training, which was held in August, is covered by Evergreen Public Schools’ $31,274 annual premium with the company. All staff had to complete the training by Oct. 31, and have done so, district officials said.
Clear Risk Solutions did not respond to a request for comment.
What an expert says
Charol Shakeshaft is an educational leadership professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and a leading expert on educator sexual misconduct. Shakeshaft reviewed the slides presented in the training session and called the approach a good step forward for the district. The workshop focuses on ways staff can appropriately interact with students both inside and outside of school, reviews mandatory reporting laws, and advises that staff never interact with minor students on social media.
But, she raised questions about data points in the training that suggest staff develop inappropriate relationships with students less frequently than they actually do. Shakeshaft conducted research in 2004 suggesting about 10 percent of students are the victims of educator sexual misconduct, including unwanted sexual contact, talk or sexual exhibition.
“It just reinforces the notion that an employee who ‘sees’ something doesn’t need to report because it probably isn’t anything, since the implication is that sexual misconduct is rare,” Shakeshaft said by email.
She also noted slides that warn staff against certain “types” of students — for instance, there’s a note on a slide that says to be “particularly wary of ‘troubled’ students,” and another that instructs staff to “never allow students to obsess over you.”
“There seems to be a lot that makes it seem like kids are dangerous and just waiting to have sex with a teacher,” she said.
Better for teachers
Still, Evergreen Education Association President Bill Beville said the new training is an improvement on the videos staff have been mandated to watch in years past. New teachers and other staff members are required to sit through a 35-minute sexual misconduct course developed by online-learning company Vector Solutions as part of its SafeSchools suite, a program used across the country. Employees take the same classes on a three-year rotation, and attend annual training with their principals to review district policies.
Beville last year described the SafeSchools training as a “check mark,” just another thing teachers have to accomplish in an already long to-do list before the start of the school year. This training is more interactive, clear and comprehensive, he said.
“It’s not just something you watch at home while you’re doing laundry,” Beville said.
Beville praised specific training on what it looks like when a staff member is grooming a student, for example, and how a staff member who suspects something inappropriate is happening can report the issue.
“It was very much more intentional than in previous years,” he said.
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