Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Seven Year Old Sex Offenders

This story had me so mad, that I had to wait a couple of days to post it for fear of breaking my standards regarding language on this blog.
In his seven years, Randy Castro has been an aspiring soccer player, an accomplished Lego architect and a Royal Ranger at his Pentecostal church. He also, according to his elementary school record, sexually harassed a first-grade classmate.

During recess at his Woodbridge school one day in November, when he was 6, he said, he smacked the classmate's bottom. The girl told the teacher. The teacher took Randy to the principal, who told him such behavior was inappropriate. School officials wrote an incident report calling it "Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive," which will remain on his student record permanently.

Then, as Randy sat in the principal's office, they called the police.

"I thought they were going to take me to prison," Randy said recently. "I was scared."
An isolated incident of a school adminstrator run amok? Nay I say, read on:
The Virginia Department of Education reported that 255 elementary students were suspended last year for offensive sexual touching, or "improper physical contact against a student." In Maryland, 166 elementary school children were suspended last year for sexual harassment, including three preschoolers, 16 kindergartners and 22 first-graders, according to the State Department of Education. Statistics for the District were not available.

In 2006, a kindergartner in Hagerstown, Md., was accused of sexual harassment after pinching a female classmate's buttocks. A 4-year-old in Texas was given an in-school suspension after a teacher's aide accused him of sexual harassment for pressing his face into her breasts when he hugged her. (emphasis added)
How can a six year old be labeled as a sexual harrasser--as a result of the bane of all existence, the zero-tolerance policy.

So many schools are instituting these so-called zero tolerance policies and such policies are so specific and so rigig as to be rediculous. The reason by the young boy was labeled with a "sexual harrasser" label is because he struck the girl's buttocks. Had he slapped her arm or back, he might have gotten in trouble for hitting her, but he wouldn't be labeled as a borderline sex offender--and his parents probably would have gotten his record expunged.

But because of where he hit the girl, his branded a bad seed. No consideration was given to "why" he hit the girl or his motive at all. The mere fact that he struck her buttocks labeled him a sex offender.

I am not condoning the boy's action. He should be punished for hitting a classmate. But in this case the punishment is permanent and severe.
Mary Kay Sommers, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said suspensions and calls to the police in such cases are overkill. The correct response, she said, would be to explore whether the behavior is linked to abuse and to teach students about respecting peers and what constitutes "good touch" or "bad touch."

"There's no way these children understand what's going on. But it's been taken out of our hands. That's the difficult moral dilemma that we face," Sommers said. She blamed two Supreme Court decisions from the 1990s that enable suits against school districts for failing to stop sexual harassment as well as zero-tolerance policies aimed at middle and high school students that are applied to students as young as 5.

"We need to make sure that we follow the letter of the law, so being reasonable sometimes gets lost," she said.

But Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, said educators do have some leeway: "Zero tolerance does not mean zero good judgment."
Here is what troubles me about these statements. First, because of a Supreme Court decision (uncited mind you), that gives schools the ability to act without any consideration of common sense. Second, the worry of litigation has created a situation where everyone and their grandmother looks to be the next litigant. So the schools are afraid of being sued for failing to stop seven year old sex offenders. The result is, they get sued for labeling a seven year old a sex offender. Yeah, that stopped the litigation.

This is coming from a litigator--stop and think before you file suit. Schools, stop and think before instituting that zero-tolerance policy. I wouldn't take a great deal of imagination to think that a simple childhood play would lead to a ridiculous end.

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