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'Hard Data' Sought

A national organization that champions the rights of Roman Catholics is urging the Department of Education to conduct a full- scale study of the prevalence of sexual misconduct by school employees.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a New York City-based membership group, has long argued that the scandal over the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests must be viewed in the context of similar misconduct by others who work with children, including educators.

A little-noticed provision of the No Child Left Behind Act requires the Education Department to commission a study of the prevalence of sexual abuse in schools.

Early this month, department spokesman Carlin Hertz said agency officials had no current plans for more research on the topic, beyond a review of the existing literature that the federal agency hired a university researcher to conduct. Mr. Hertz added last week that the Education Department would have no further comment on the issue until it had completed its review of the draft report that Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft submitted to the department this month. ("Sexual Abuse by Educators Is Scrutinized," March 10, 2004.)

Ms. Shakeshaft said she initially understood from the agency that her work would be a prelude to a larger study. She concludes in her draft report that educator sexual misconduct has been "woefully understudied."

In a March 12 letter to Secretary of Education Rod Paige, the president of the Catholic League, William A. Donohue, asserted that not conducting a larger study would be a "travesty."

He also called on the department to "establish a national database on the sexual abuse of students committed by school employees."

"Without hard data," he added, "it is difficult to ascertain what should be done about this problem."

After learning of Mr. Donohue’s letter, the head of a national advocacy network said that she, too, would be pressing the Education Department to study the issue further.

"I will be writing to Secretary Paige, and I am urging others to do the same," said Terri Miller, the Henderson, Nev.-based president of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct, and Exploitation, or SESAME.

—Caroline Hendrie

Vol. 23, Issue 28, Page 24

Published in Print: March 24, 2004, as Federal File

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