In a column last week in the Denver Rocky Mountain News, by Susan Malone Maier, a teacher at Denver’s Saint Vincent de Paul School, she raises the issue of sexual abuse of minors in schools, and the protection they enjoy under Colorado law from any pursuit.
The Associated Press reported last year that in some states sexual abuse is the main reason public school teachers lose their licenses. Colorado public schools are not exempt from the abuse problem. Professor Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University, among others, argues that up to 15 percent of all public school students nationally are the victims of sexual misconduct by a staff member, ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse, by the time they finish high school.
The evidence also suggests that from 1 percent to 5 percent of the teaching profession and up to 25 percent of all public school districts have problems of sexual abuse.
She therefore states that it is a lot easier, and potentially far more lucrative, to sue the Catholic Church, or any church or private organization, than it is to sue the local public school district. The reason is simple. Public school districts enjoy sovereign immunity unless the state legislature says otherwise. So far, Colorado legislators have kept that immunity in place. As a result, public school districts have a sharply reduced liability for incidents of sexual abuse.
Under Colorado law, parents have much less time to identify, report and legally pursue sexual abuse committed by a public school employee than if the same abuse is committed by the employee of a religious or private organization. The amount of money they can recover in damages is also drastically limited.