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Districts must protect children

SHARE Districts must protect children

A Supreme Court ruling that school districts are not liable for sexual harassment unless they are "deliberately indifferent" to misconduct should not stimulate administrative ignorance to avoid liability.

The opposite should be true. Administrators at the nation's schools should adopt clear guidelines regarding appropriate faculty and staff behavior and succinctly defined consequences for abusers. A lack of preventive efforts does not provide legal protection. It only opens doors to lawsuits.In its 5-4 ruling, the fragmented court reversed the trend from blanket district liability and made it harder for students to file sexual harassment charges against teachers. It considered the millions of dollars on the line with many cases pending in lower courts and erected a protective bulwark around educational coffers. Dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens charged colleagues with putting "protection of the school district's purse above the protection of immature high-school students."

Districts must ensure legal protection does not come at the expense of students abused by teachers they trust. Improper sexual advances have no place in any environment but are especially reprehensible when perpetuated against children and youths by adults in positions of power. To avoid the "deliberate indifference" standard, they must not abdicate their responsibility to regularly review the conduct of those within their employ. To do so would be to abjure the public trust, particularly that of parents who daily turn over their youngsters to the keeping of schools.

Women's and victims' rights groups around the country criticized the decision, saying it removes an important avenue of redress for those offended. Their concern is that the ruling encourages "ostrich-like behavior" - something it must not do.

School districts must actively weed out misbehavior and properly punish any teacher of staff member engaged in inappropriate conduct with a student. By doing so, they protect those within their care and are on a firm legal footing should problems arise.