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Training needed to prevent physical, sexual abuse in schools

California insurance provider offering free online training courses

Nearly one in 10 K12 students are sexually abused by teachers, coaches, principals and other personnel, according to the Department of Education. To combat a growing number of abuse cases, a California insurance provider is offering free online training courses to help district staff learn how to report abuse.

Keenan, an insurance brokerage and consulting firm that works with some 700 California districts, created the Physical and Sexual Abuse Prevention Resource Center in April. It is a website that offers courses on sexual misconduct, establishing professional boundaries with students, child abuse identification and intervention, online safety, and youth suicide awareness and prevention.

The courses take about 20 to 30 minutes each to complete.

“We’ve experienced a significant increase in the number of both sexual and physical abuse claims,” says John Stephens, senior vice president and property and casualty practice leader for Keenan.

Recent legislation in California raised the age—from 18 to 26—at which people can file claims that they were abused as a minor— this increases a school’s liability, Stephens adds.

Districts are often insured for up to $1 million—the average cost of a school abuse settlement today, Stephens says. “If they don’t have these claims, those are monies that are going back to the district that they can put in the classroom,” he says. “If they do (have claims), they will pay for the victims and attorneys.”

Similar to most other states, California law says school employees must immediately report possible child abuse to law enforcement or Child Protective Services. Though California schools are required to inform employees about the mandate, they are not required to train them on recognizing abuse, says a January 2014 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The growing rate of abuse in schools nationwide is due in part to lack of training and incomplete teacher background checks, the report states. Further, states and districts receive limited guidance from the Department of Education regarding Title IX, which requires schools to have procedures that protect students from sexual abuse.

Buena Park School District in California has required staff training on abuse through Keenan for the past six years. The district has not faced a physical or sexual abuse case.

“We want to raise awareness on conditions around student-adult relationships and home relationships that may show up in schools,” says Superintendent Greg Magnuson. “It’s important for administrators to understand what the conditions are and react to them appropriately, which a lot of times means calling the authorities.” —Alison DeNisco