Ready to Send the Kids Back to School? Beware of Hidden Dangers
It’s back-to-school time!
As the summer draws to a close, that familiar rush of activities overtakes families everywhere. There’s shopping to be done: tracking down everything on each three-page supply list, picking out a special first-day outfit, selecting a few treats to tuck into lunchboxes. There’s last-minute summer to be savored: going to the pool, grilling out for dinner, and enjoying some unstructured time before the school-year schedule gets back in full swing. And don’t forget to worry about what will happen to your children when they’re back in school and under someone else’s care every day!
Yes, you read that right. Too often parents look forward to sending their kids back to school without giving any real thought to what might happen to them there. Sadly, there are more threats to ourselves, and to our children, every day—and many of those threats lurk in the very schools and athletic teams that we entrust our children to. The ultimate parental fear may be a school shooting, but far more common are the quiet, skulking threats that the attorneys at PCVA fight against every day.
Parents need to remain vigilant against those threats, and that vigilance starts with awareness.
From the moment your child leaves home and gets on a bus, you’re trusting people you may never have met. Like Gary Shafer in Olympia, Washington, a school bus driver who “admitted to molesting as many as 30 kindergarten-age children” over a period of six years. Or Jose Luis Garza, a school bus driver in Hidalgo County, Texas, who’s been accused of “inappropriate touching” by several students, both boys and girls, on his route. If another student is abusive, will the bus driver—or the school district—protect your child from harm? For an eight-year-old girl with Down syndrome in Kennewick, Washington, the answer was no.
At school, is your child being bullied by other children (or, terrifyingly, by parents)? Are your child’s teachers looking out for harmful situations—or are they intentionally or thoughtlessly creating those situations?
If your child participates in sports during or after school, can you trust the coach? All across the country, regardless of the area, the sport, or the level of play, coaches and team officials are using their positions to groom and sexually abuse children. Everyone has heard of Jerry Sandusky, the Pennsylvania State University football coach convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse involving young boys he met through his nonprofit. Or Larry Nassar, the former U.S. Olympic gymnastics team doctor currently serving a 40- to 175-year sentence for sexual assault, whose abuse of over 300 women and girls at Michigan State University resulted in a $500 million settlement.
But have you heard of Charlie Mabern Hamrick, the assistant football coach at a Florida high school now serving six consecutive life sentences for sexually abusing children? Or Leon Watson in Pennsylvania, who was sentenced to 114 to 228 years for molesting five boys and a mentally disabled young adult, all of whom he met while coaching youth football teams? What about Jesse Perry in Rhode Island, serving two consecutive life sentences plus 30 years for seven long years of sexual abuse involving a boy from his Pop Warner football team?
Of course, it’s not just football: Julio Ortiz, a basketball coach in California, is serving 50 years in prison for molesting at least four boys. Nelson Ivan del Valle-Nazario, a martial arts instructor in Florida, was sentenced to life plus 60 years for repeatedly raping and sexually abusing one of his students. Darin Plumlee, a high school teacher in Tennessee who coached wrestling, got a one-year slap on the wrist for molesting a student. Carlos Bell, a former teaching assistant and school coach, is now serving 105 years in federal prison for child pornography charges and another 190 years in state prison for sexually abusing at least 42 boys in Maryland.
Think a female coach couldn’t do such a thing? Think again: Cathy Rothgeb of Virginia was sentenced to a 184-year prison term for molesting two girls from her youth softball team for “years and years.” Worse yet, as we’ve seen here in Washington with the Black Hills Football Club, soccer coaches can groom and abuse players while leagues stand by and let it happen.
Back-to-school time means that it’s time to get to know the adults in your children’s lives. Talk to your kids’ coaches, teachers, and bus drivers. Watch them interact with children and pay attention to what your gut is telling you. Monitor your children’s activities and be alert to time they may be alone with a coach, a teacher, or another adult. Most of all, talk to your kids.
If you need help or if you suspect that something is wrong, reach out to us. At PCVA, we’re parents as well as lawyers. We’re here to help.