By Gretchen Schuldt
A student's traumatic experiences with a high school administrator prompted a bipartisan bill that would prohibit teachers making sexual advances to students, requesting sexual favors from them, or touching students in a sexual nature.
The prohibitions included in Senate Bill 333 / Assembly Bill 341 also would apply to adult volunteers in the school. Violations would be punishable by up to 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine. A conviction also would result in the automatic revocation of any Department of Public Instruction licenses held by the convicted person.
A chart showing the sponsors of the bill is at the bottom of this post.
Kerri Pingel, who now counsels young people, spoke to a Senate committee last week about her experience during her last years at a private high school.
"An administrator I went to with questions about my faith soon pulled me out of class for being 'impure,'" she told the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. "He required me to reveal details of sexual experiences I had with my boyfriend, who was 20 at the time. I was 16. He instructed me to describe my part in the sexual acts to him from beginning, middle, to end in sexually graphic detail – all while staring at me in an intimidating and objectifying way."
The administrator isolated her from other staff members, her parents, and others who could support her, "claiming he was preparing me for God’s Kingdom," she said. "As punishment for 'confessing' to intimacy with my boyfriend, I was placed at an isolated desk for my last semester, requiring daily check-ins with this administrator," Pingel said.
He eventually made sexual comments to her such as he had a “party in his pants” and asked about her sexual relationship with her boyfriend. He described his own sexual parts and said Pingel's boyfriend had her "on a leash."
He continued contact after Pingel graduated and made comments on social media "directly focused on my sexual purity," she said.
"As a child, I did not understand this educator took advantage of my vulnerability for his sexual gratification without my consent," she said. She said she felt at the time that the administrator's behavior was her fault.
The police, when informed of the administrator's behavior, said no crime occurred because the man did not touch Pingel and she was not an employee. She missed the three-year statutory deadline for filing a civil lawsuit, she said.
"If an educator did this to a child you know – could you accept from law enforcement and every reasonable authority in the state it did not matter because the educator did not touch this child?" she said. "Could you watch the school and its affiliates willfully entertain the predator around more children in their care and legally get away with it? Could you ignore the severe trauma, betrayal, and humiliation this child endured from every part of this and not try everything to stop it from happening to someone else?"
In other testimony on the bill, Senate author Jesse James (R-Altoona) said the bill was drafted so it will not to apply to staff members "who make a joke in poor taste or who are falsely accused of inappropriate behavior." The bill, he said, "requires not only that the accused staff member must have knowingly engaged in sexual behavior, but the behavior to have 'substantially interfered' with the student’s academic performance too."
"Every child has the right to a safe learning environment regardless of what type of school they attend," said State Rep. Tod Ohnstad (D-Kenosha). "Protecting children from sexual misconduct is a shared responsibility of the community, schools, lawmakers, and law enforcement."
There was no testimony opposing the bill. Registering in favor of the bill were the Badger State Sheriff's Association, Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, Wisconsin Nurses Association, Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association, the Wisconsin State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police, and Wisconsin Voices. No groups or individuals have registered in opposition.
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