Recognizing and Stopping Sexual Abuse in Schools: A Call to Vigilance

By Darrell Cochran Law

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education released a comprehensive report that shed light on a disturbing reality: the widespread sexual abuse committed by school employees across the country. This report, spanning hundreds of pages, meticulously documented various categories of school staff most likely to engage in such misconduct.  Despite this report, the abuses continue far too often.

Among these categories of most likely to offend were coaches, drama teachers, band directors, and educators in special needs or advanced placement programs. These individuals, often having isolated interactions with students, were found to be more prone to abusing their positions of trust.

Michael Alstad is one such example.  The band teacher worked in the Cheney School District, where signs of his predatory behavior were evident for years. He isolated female students, offered preferential treatment, and employed grooming tactics—classic yet insidious methods used by sexual abusers.  The Cheney School District was recently ordered to pay $3 Million for ignoring warnings he had been abusing our client Sara Bachman-Rhodes for year.



The Abuser Profile:

The profile of such predators is chillingly consistent: typically men in their twenties or thirties, unmarried, without children, and often perceived as charismatic and devoted to their students’ well-being. They target vulnerable children, often from broken families or households where parents are absent due to busy schedules, gaining trust and access under the guise of care.

To combat this pervasive issue, school districts must take proactive measures. Training programs should empower every employee to recognize the warning signs and feel safe reporting suspicions without fear of reprisal. Anonymous tip lines and reporting mechanisms are crucial tools to ensure that suspicions are investigated promptly and thoroughly.

Despite the discomfort it may evoke, acknowledging the potential for abuse among trusted educators is essential. Most school personnel are dedicated professionals genuinely committed to their students’ welfare. However, it is the responsibility of school administrators and the community at large to remain vigilant and intervene swiftly when suspicions arise.

Denial can be a formidable barrier. It’s natural to want to believe in the inherent goodness of those tasked with educating and caring for our children. Yet, safeguarding our children requires us to confront uncomfortable truths and prioritize their safety above all else.

Ultimately, preventing even one case of abuse through informed vigilance and decisive action is a monumental success. By fostering a culture of awareness and accountability, we can ensure that schools remain safe havens where children thrive without fear.