COLUMBIA --- Educators across South Carolina will be trained on how to prevent, identify and report cases of students being abused by adults at school or elsewhere, officials announced Wednesday.
Roughly 10,000 teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, coaches and school nurses will become "Stewards of Children" through a program developed by Darkness to Light, a Charleston-based national nonprofit group that seeks to curtail the number of child sex abuse victims and the crime's impact on their lives.
Anne Lee, the group's chief executive, said South Carolina is the first state to tackle such a statewide initiative. She said the group is seeking federal money to expand what she hopes becomes the national model.
She hopes the training program "closes the cookie jar" for sexual predators in schools. If they know fellow educators are watching and are ready to turn them in, they'll get another job, Ms. Lee said.
State schools Superintendent Jim Rex said incidents of inappropriate behavior between students and teachers are rare, but even one is too many.
"So much of what schools do is based on trust. Not only must kids trust their teachers, but parents have to trust those teachers too," he said. "And schools have to earn that trust each and every day. That's what this initiative is all about."
Mr. Rex said it needed to be a statewide push, because if the agency allowed schools to opt into the program, those that most need it might not participate. Colleges are also incorporating the training in their teacher education programs.
Last fall, a nationwide Associated Press investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 after allegations of sexual misconduct, from bizarre to sadistic; 99 were from South Carolina, according to discipline records.
Experts who track sexual abuse said those cases are representative of a much deeper problem because of underreporting.
'STEWARDS OF CHILDREN'
WHO GETS THE TRAINING? Beginning this fall, at least one educator from each of the state's 85 school districts will have 6 1/2 hours of training.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHERS? Those "stewards of children" will train at least 20 percent of educators in their district.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? More than 80 percent of the $162,700 cost of training and materials comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.