More responsibility for Alaskan teachers and school volunteers
Alaska’s Legislature passed the Alaska Safe Children’s Act, which contains Erin’s Law and Bree’s Law, but there was also other legislation attached.
It includes the addition of school volunteers to the list of people who legally must report suspected child abuse, and requirements for all teachers — no matter what class they teach — to complete ongoing training in the recognition of sexual abuse and dating violence.
“We are not advocating that everyone has to teach curriculum to students, but that understanding if a child is in crisis in your room is important to everyone,” said Sen. Anna MacKinnon, the bill’s supporter.
The legislation, which requires all schools to give students age appropriate information on what sexual abuse and dating violence is, passed Thursday night and is awaiting Gov. Bill Walker’s signature. It has a two-year delay before it’s mandatory.
For Andy Holleman, president of the Anchorage Education Association (AEA), the implementation of Erin’s Law and Bree’s Law across the state can’t come soon enough.
“The statistics tell us it is worse here than anywhere else in the country,” he explained. “This is something that has to be worked on, we have to implement this right, and we have to educate kids to be able to protect themselves.”
The AEA supports the new training but has flagged a possible problem with teachers from other states not having the required training.
“It will affect everyone coming into the profession,” Holleman said, adding that the training will be required to get a teachers certificate in Alaska. “Who it will hit particularly hard are people we recruit from out of state, and quite a few teachers come from out of state.”
Smaller districts might need more guidance and resources in order to comply with the legislation, along with proving the extra training for teachers.
“They have to be the math and science and coach and applied tech teacher, and now you say, ‘oh you are going to do this too,’ it’s a little more of a burden in that case,” Holleman said.
MacKinnon says her goal is for the Department of Education to provide an online course, at minimal cost, for teachers and all people involved with children’s education.
Bill supporter Rep. Geran Tarr says she hopes community partners will help facilitate teacher training in smaller communities.
“The standard in Alaska will be every student gets this critical personal body safety information, and if we want to keep every student safe then we need to make sure every student is empowered with this information,” Tarr said.
The new law will also expand who has to report suspected abuse to authorities and requires a small amount of training. MacKinnon is passionate about adding everyone who volunteers with students to the list of mandatory reports, in part motivated by a heartbreaking experience of one of her constituents.
“All of us should be mandatory reporters,” MacKinnon said, adding that it can be difficult to report when it’s often not clear what is going on.
Holleman supports expanding the list of who is a mandatory reporter, but says it might be hard for some volunteer parents and coaches to handle the legal pressure.
“You are legally required to report suspected abuse to the state, and the training is in recognizing children that exhibit characteristics that may indicate abuse,” Holleman said.
Tarr says she hopes parents and the community will be involved as a newly formed task force finalizes curriculum over the next year or two.
“I think we can all benefit from that, the parents from learning more, there may be things that they see or ways that they can help children in their life even if they aren’t their own,” Tarr said.
Contact Kate McPherson at email@example.com
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