Sex with Students 101

August 11, 1993

How Ronald W. Price was allowed, by his admission, to have sex with his teen-aged students for 20-odd years becomes ever clearer. It isn't just that Anne Arundel school officials ignored complaints about him -- though that is the major reason. The situation also was allowed to fester because of teacher ignorance regarding child sexual abuse.

The most disturbing finding in the state's probe of the Price scandal -- which grew this week to include a third Northeast High School teacher -- is that many Arundel school employees do not know what sexual abuse is, let alone their legal obligation to report the slightest suspicion of it. Consider this: Some teachers interviewed by state investigators said they doubted their colleagues would consider a sexual relationship between a teacher and an older student a reportable offense.

Those responsible for training teachers -- from universities down to the local principal -- are failing to advise them about what qualifies as an acceptable relationship with students. (Why some teachers need to be told it is wrong to date underage pupils -- or even cultivate non-sexual social relationships with them -- remains perplexing.)

While gray areas do exist -- should teachers hire students as babysitters? invite them for dinner? join them for pizza after a football game? -- there is no excuse for sexual liaisons. The law specifies sexual abuse as "exploitation" of children under 18 by one who has "care or custody or responsibility" for that child. Every school system should be drumming into its staffers' heads that sexual relationships with students, consensual or not, are wrong as well as against the law.

We fear, unfortunately, other school systems may be as negligent as Anne Arundel, where investigators found that information given to principals about child abuse often never reached the teaching staff. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick shares our fears. She has ordered spot checks of Maryland's other 23 school systems to see if employees have been informed of the child abuse laws. Dr. Grasmick has shown a commitment to get to the bottom of this mess ever since she was called in, and she deserves credit for seeing the need for broader action.

If too many Anne Arundel teachers don't understand what constitutes sexual abuse, chances are many others don't, either. It's way past time to confront this problem and stop sweeping it under the rug, which, if Anne Arundel is any indiction, is what some school systems have done until now.

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