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PACE welcomes 150 attendees to annual safety event in Eugene

Of all that was said and shown at the “PACE Day: Safe and Secure Schools” event April 25 in Eugene, perhaps the most sobering was a brief video.

In it, the sexually related school claims of the past couple of decades were overlaid against a map of the state, year by year. The images demonstrated the accelerated pace of such claims in recent years, as well as how the problem exists statewide.

By the video’s conclusion, a hush had fallen over the crowd of 150 at the Hilton Eugene.

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Attendees listen to a presentation at the second annual PACE Day.

The power of the video’s imagery helped introduce the importance of the message from keynote speakers Glenn Scott Lipson and Daniel Shinoff. Lipson is a clinical psychologist and professor who has developed an online training program to prevent sexual misconduct; Shinoff is an attorney who defends school districts in lawsuits.

Their session, “Dealing with Students, Boundary Issues and Professional Ethics for Educators,” was a timely one for the second annual PACE Day. Boundary issues and sexual grooming have led to a number of six-figure legal settlements against Oregon districts in recent years, and because PACE (which stands for Property and Casualty Coverage for Education) is a pool, rates for all members are affected by judgments against individual districts.

“You are members, but you are owners of this program as well,” noted Lisa Freiley, OSBA’s director of labor and PACE services.

The issue is so vital that attendees received a newly created Boundary Invasion Toolkit, designed to prevent and identify sexual contact between school employees and students. It contains sample policies, legal issues, reporting requirements, questions and answers, prevention tools and a reference guide.

“Participation of your key staff is vital to making this work,” said Geoff Sinclair, PACE’s director of claims services.

Shinoff and Lipson provided details from several of the cases they have encountered, and Lipson noted that “this has become a hot area of litigation … the average jury verdict in California is $5.9 million.”

Lipson said the accused in such cases cross gender and racial lines, and Shinoff said perpetrators of school-related sexual crimes “tend to be the most popular ones on campus; they are grooming the kids, but they are grooming the adults as well.”

They showed a video of a tearful student victim’s statement to a school staff member who had engaged in a sexual relationship with her. “Will these rumors always follow me?” she asked.  “You are the adult, act like one – and do not exploit us for your needs.”

Lipson said school staff often demonstrate what he called “ostrich tendencies” about sexual grooming of students.

“People don't want to talk about this,” he said.

Shinoff said he is frustrated by school staff members who resist training efforts on how to recognize grooming and report sexual boundaries being crossed. He suggested that prevention efforts require a buy-in from the superintendent and school board.

“Training needs to focus on the environment, not the actor, so that this behavior is not tolerated,” Shinoff said.

Other presentations included:

  • Concussion management. “It's not a bruise on the brain – it's something we can't see,” said Dr. Michael Koester, of the Slocum Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Eugene. “It's an injury that happens at the microscopic level. A lot of the evaluation is much more difficult.”
  • Effective threat assessment techniques. “Our country was founded on a history of aggression and violence,” said John Van Dreal, a school psychologist with the Salem-Keizer School District. “It should actually surprise you when people are not violent.” Using case studies, he described methods of identifying active threats to others.  
  • Avoiding retaliation claims. “A lot of employees who are in trouble will make a claim,” said attorney Karen Vickers. “That can be quite difficult to deal with.”
  • Addressing bullying in schools. “We forget that bullying affects the bystanders,” said Peggy Holstedt, OSBA’s director of board development and policy services. “They know what's going on, and that creates a culture of fear and disrespect.”

Attendees listen to a presentation at the second annual PACE Day.