What’s the point?
School system leaders and now the state have failed to protect students at Huntsville Middle School from abuse.
Newspapers, any local reporter will admit, publish stories of varying levels of news value. Even nationally or internationally, not all stories can be a shock like Watergate, but they are usually important. At the local level, stories can be about unexpected revelations, but they can also be about mundane but important decision-making. A rezoning may not be exciting, but residents need to know what bigger projects are happening around them.
Yet every once in a while an eye-popper comes along. And there was a doozy last week – just the latest – involving the horrific hazing that took place at Huntsville Middle School.
“No Huntsville School Staff Fee,” the headline read.
The story told how Washington County District Attorney Matt Durrett, based on information provided by the local sheriff’s office, determined that school officials who had become aware of the sexual abuse charges on the The high school basketball team weren’t required by law to call Arkansas. Child Abuse Helpline.
Educators are unquestionably mandatory reporters, under state law. They must file a hotline report when there is “reasonable cause to believe a child has been the victim of abuse,” Durrett said. What is Child Abuse? It is defined as abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation or abandonment.
The conclusion drawn in the Huntsville case was that the locker room acts by some basketball players by restraining several eighth- and ninth-grade teammates, then placing their exposed genitals on the faces of the restrained teammates – multiple times over the course of two basketball seasons — did not meet the definitions of abuse, sexual abuse or sexual exploitation.
This finding is disconcerting. It’s amazing. And if the prosecutor’s conclusion is valid, it’s yet another example of poorly drafted state law.
Consider this for a moment: what if these boys had done the exact same thing in the locker room to members of the girls’ basketball team? How comfortable would everyone be with the idea that this was not about abuse, sexual abuse or sexual exploitation? Or with the sheriff’s office concluding that “no sexual gratification was involved?” What exactly is the test for that conclusion, and when does flopping your privates in someone’s face go from locker room antics to sexual gratification?
It was just boys being boys, right? That certainly seemed to be the attitude in Huntsville throughout this nasty episode, as penalties for abusers were reduced by the school board and inappropriate meetings attempted to prevent news of what had happened. are not made public.
But, for the sake of discussion, let’s accept the information contained in Sheriff’s Office Captain Russell Albert’s report and Durrett’s thorough review of legal definitions and the meaning of each word. Even if by a few convoluted hoop jumps there is no legal action to be taken against compulsory stenographers, are we to believe that this absolves them of all liability?
Alberts’ report verified that head coach Caleb Houston, superintendent Audra Kimball, athletic director Tommy McCollough and high school principal Roxanne Enix all qualify as mandatory reporters. It is extremely unlikely that any of them, faced with the revelation of horrific behavior among their student-athletes, would have undergone an intense and extraordinary legal analysis of state laws to determine whether they should fulfill their duties as reporting required.
Indeed, the reason such mandatory reporting exists is to simplify decisions for, in this case, educators who might be in conflict for other reasons – protecting students’ privacy, trying to keep players in a team, avoiding controversy, not wanting to be the one upsetting a basket of apples. And it’s hard to believe that a mandatory reporter, learning of allegations that teenage students subjected other students to unwanted violations involving their genitals, wouldn’t see such actions as abuse, sexual abuse or of sexual exploitation.
In Britain, police often advise citizens who witness something that doesn’t seem right to them to “see it, tell it, sort it out”. In other words, speak up and let the trained authorities deal with the matter. In the United States, it is often “See something, say something”.
Throughout this controversy, the priority in Huntsville has been to ensure that news of the abuse does not spread, and then, after that, to protect the children. Sounds noble, unless that protection prioritizes abusers over victims. Or, of course, he prioritizes the protection of the school district and those who chose not to fulfill what was at least their moral duty to speak out through the child abuse hotline of Arkansas.
This heavy dose of Legal Twister resulted in no criminal charges for failure to report, which may lead some public school officials to absolve themselves of wrongdoing in this extreme example of covert school politics, but they did. wrong.
We understand why there are laws on the books that are meant to protect minors, but too often these laws are also used to provide cover for public officials who have let those minors down.
If Arkansas laws really didn’t require educators to report such nasty conduct in a junior high locker room, Arkansas lawmakers didn’t quite get it. Any child subjected to such behavior should be able to rely on adults in the education system and the laws of our state to protect them and ensure accountability for abuse.
Huntsville Schools gets an F for this assignment.