OLYMPIA—Legislation requiring school districts to include sexual abuse in their plans to help distressed students is headed to Governor Inslee’s desk after the Senate gave it its unanimous support earlier today.
“Sexual abuse is a tragic reality that we must address to keep our kids safe,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines. “But right now we don’t have the tools in place to identify possible sexual abuse and then respond accordingly.”
Schools in Washington already have plans for recognition, initial screening, and response to emotional or behavioral distress in students. But they only include indicators of possible substance abuse, violence, and youth suicide. House Bill 2597 strengthens child and family protections by adding sexual abuse to this clause.
Under this measure, the plans must include parental notification requirements, information regarding how staff should respond when allegations of sexual contact or abuse are made, and how the district will provide training on the obligation to report physical abuse and sexual misconduct to staff.
“We will have a step by step process for teachers—who are mandatory reporters—to follow when they report possible abuse, and for schools to notify parents in the rare instance that an educator may be the perpetrator,” Orwall said.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. But many incidents go unreported because children are afraid of negative reactions if they talk about their experiences. However, when children do disclose to adults, teachers are the most likely to be told or to notice that something is wrong.
Committee for Children worked with Rep. Orwall to write the bill and advocate for its passage.
“Educators are uniquely positioned to notice the signs of abuse,” said Joan Cole Duffell, Executive Director of Committee for Children. “This bill ensures that school districts plan their response to emotional and behavioral distress and are prepared to respond when a student shows signs of sexual abuse. We all know that the best time to plan for a crisis is before it happens.”
According to the CDC, school personnel are the source of over 50 percent of abuse reports made by professionals to authorities.
“That’s why schools play such an important role in keeping kids safe. And that’s why we need to have these protocols and procedures in place at every Washington school,” Orwall added.