Sunday, December 11, 2016

We Owe it to Our Children

He’s right. Attorney, Elliot Pasik is one of the movers and shakers when it comes to combating child sexual abuse. In a Times of Israel article he penned, he reminds us about one of his major contributions to that cause. 10 years ago, he was practically single-handedly responsible for a New York state law that permits fingerprinting and criminal history background checks of nonpublic school employees. In this way criminals of all sorts that have had encounters with the law - not the least of which were sex offenders - would be screened out of working in a public school. From the Times of Israel: 
New York public schools are required to fingerprint and perform criminal history searches on their employees. All public school employees are mandated to report child abuse to the police or child protection services. All public school administrators and teachers are required to take coursework in identifying child abuse, and preventing violence. All public schools must have written polices and safety plans to prevent child abuse and violence. These, and other child protection laws, apply to the public schools, but not the non-public schools. 
The law does not however require private schools to do any of this. For them it is voluntary. As it pertains to those of us that send our children to religious schools, it leaves a tremendous void in protecting our children. Elliot notes that only 2 Jewish schools out of 400 in New York have opted to follow the guidelines mandated for public schools. This leaves most of our children unprotected. Or at the very least not as well protected as public school children are. I should add that it isn’t only Jewish parochial schools that are exposing their children to possible unnecessary danger, it is the vast majority of all non public schools. But that should not make us feel  any better.

The question is why? Why are those entrusted with the responsibility of educating our children not sufficiently concerned about their physical and psychological welfare? At least not enough to implement the standards required of public schools?

I can think of no reason that such protection is not offered. Are they afraid of ‘Big Brotherism’? Is it that they fear any government interference? Is it the slippery slope argument that says that ‘today it’s about protecting against sex abuse, tomorrow it might be about teaching things that would contradict our values? I have no clue. In my view these arguments – if they are they are indeed the reasons – fall flat in the face of increased levels of protection our children would have. There is no reason to believe that a protective measure like this will lead to anything other than better protection.

What do the parochial schools say in their defense? They claim to be doing their own due diligence on this issue: 
Clever opponents of a mandatory fingerprint bill will tell you that many, or even most, of New York’s non-public schools already are doing employee background checks, but without the fingerprinting. They assert that there are schools which are utilizing private companies to background check, and government fingerprinting is, therefore, unnecessary.  
But as Elliot points out there is no substitute for creating and maintaining a data base of criminals whose histories can be checked via fingerprints. That kind of data cannot be faked. Additionally it is far from certain that due diligence is actually taking place. There is no mechanism to assure that is happening. And even if they do some sort of background checking, what are the means that these schools use to check them out? How reliable are those means? How thorough are they? Can’t identities be faked? Can’t histories be faked?

I agree with the Rabbinical Council of America. They support legislation that would require all religious schools to follow the same protocols as public schools. What harm can there possibly be in this? Don’t our children deserve the same level protection as public school children? It’s just a shame that except for 2 schools, they haven’t done this voluntarily. How many more of our children will have to be sexually abused before we get the message?