Smart Talk

Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Criminal misconduct complaints against teachers in PA growing

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Aug 6, 2014 1:47 PM

What to look for on Smart Talk Thursday, August 7, 2014:

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Pennsylvania has had the second highest number of teacher sex crimes in the nation this year.  That’s according to a nationwide report released last month.  Twenty-four cases have been reported so far in 2014.  Overall, there have been 450 complaints against teachers since January.  In all of 2013, the Pennsylvania Department of Education reported 482 complaints. 

There have been 416 sex abuse cases nationwide since January, about the same number ordinarily seen in an entire year. 

Other instances of teacher misconduct have included drunk driving and drug possession.     

So, are teachers violating their students’ trust more frequently or are the methods for reporting inappropriate relationships between teacher and student different than in the past? 

It is worth noting that the teachers accused of misconduct make up a small margin of the 150,000 K-12 teachers and administrators working in the state.

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Kristen Houser from PCAR, Dr. Lou Manza from Lebanon Valley College, and Cathleen Palm from the Center for Children’s Justice

Kristen Houser, Vice President of Communication for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) , Dr. Lou Manza, professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College and Cathleen Palm of the Center for Children’s Justice will discuss the issue on Thursday’s Smart Talk.

To report child abuse:  1-800-932-0313

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  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-07 08:19

    Thomas from Manheim Township:

    i would like to make a comment, i am glad to see that other groups are being reported on, other then the roman catholic church and penn state. i have always stated that there are far more teachers then catholic priests or football coaches. i also think that these persons are in positions of authority and take advantage of it. has anyone ever looked at statistics with police depts. for officers being arrested for charges like these?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-07 08:25

    Jeffrey from Lancaster writes:

    I am a pastoral counselor in Lancaster...I have worked with professionals for many years - many teachers. I do have concerns that in our training of teachers, insufficient time is spent increasing the awareness of the potential of these relationships occurring. I am speaking less about the "do's and don'ts" of behaviors. Rather, helping teachers be aware of their own vulnerabilities to blurring and breaking the lines.

    Teachers can be models...and models, if they are vulnerable, internally misunderstand feelings of admiration and feelings of love.

    Thanks for a great after day.

    Be well.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-07 08:39

    Mary emails:

    Hello, Scott,

    I have worked as a substitute teacher, an employee of an educational services agency, and in two agencies that work with children and adults with autism for seven years, and I have always had to have background checks and clearances. While schools might not have started to do this before the Jerry Sandusky revelations, other businesses and agencies have.

    I’ve lost count of how many times I have fingerprinted for an FBI background check.

    I think a lot of people were naïve and still are naïve about this issue of sexual abuse of children and students. If someone “looks” like a upstanding member of society, we want to trust that person on the surface impression. Unfortunately, we have to be suspicious.

    An example: I grew up in a poor area of West Virginia. My best friend was a foster child with a family where the father was a minister with a nondenominational church. There was a man affiliated with that religious group, I’ll call him a “missionary,” and he was a predator. He raped my friend and was “grooming” me and made very inappropriate “advances” toward me. This was in the 1970s. You had no one to go to about these things back then, and we had not been taught to speak up about such things. It was all swept under the rug.

    I was just lucky to have dodged this “bullet.” I was a kid who was very needy and wanted attention. I came from a severely dysfunctional family.

    A teacher in a “prestigious” local school where my daughter attended commented once in a teacher conference about wanting to take my daughter camping. This teacher was a good friend of my husband, who was also a teacher. I got a terrible feeling from this young man, and I told him quite bluntly if he ever touched my daughter I would kill him. I discussed it with her father. No one ever would have thought this could happen with a teacher at that school. They did no background checks at that time.

    This type of predator is everywhere.

  • Robert D Colgan img 2014-08-07 08:55

    I know that the primary focus here is on more serious abuse in academic settings, sexual abuse often, but any misuse of hierarchic power should be identified and dealt with.

    My own experience with schools, as teacher and as parent, is that schools tolerate much more emotional abuse than should be tolerated.

    I saw children embarrassed, shamed, singled out and humiliated by other children and by teachers. It wasn't years ago called bullying----but it was bullying. Some teachers were doing it in an attempt to shake up the child to get them to do better....a type of tough love. Some teachers were taking out their own frustration at not being able to reach the child. Some were just being bullies. The children knew who could be trusted in the classroom and who couldn't. But schools create a secrecy so that things often went under the administrator's radar.

    The incidence of this -----compared to the bulk of the teaching staff who do all they can to be supportive and encouraging to students----- is small, but still large enough to have drawn my attention.

    Is it better now in the schools than it used to be...?
    Probably. I haven't the contact with schools I used to, and the public awareness of ethical treatment has gotten much better over the years once bullying was recognized for its dangerous effects.
    Young teachers are given far more education on classroom ethics, childhood psychology than they previously received.
    But emotional abuse probably still goes on far more than sexual abuse.
    We see it in domestic scenarios... schools are only an extension of the home.

  • Kristen Houser img 2014-08-07 11:07

    I wanted to be sure to address the comments from the caller who noted how few resources there are for people who want help around inappropriate thoughts or offending behaviors. This issue has become so charged that it has made it very difficult for people who commit sexual offenses or other inappropriate sexual behavior/thoughts to find assistance. Please note that Stop It Now ( does offer a hotline and resources for people who are looking for such help. It is very important to provide treatment to offenders - this is a behavior that is a CHOICE - they chose when, where, how and against whom they will perpetrate these acts... usually in private when no one else will interrupt. These are deliberate decisions. And people can also choose to NOT perpetrate, and that is what treatment is all about - helping people ID their own risk factors, risky situations, triggers, and creating an action plan to leave the situation, call someone for help, have a safe alternative. Thank you for asking this important question!