OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An increase in the number of coaches, teachers and administrators accused of sex-related crimes has some Oklahoma educators concerned that more cases could be reported as schools struggle to find qualified teachers, according to a published report.
The Sunday Oklahoman has documented more than a dozen cases in recent years of coaches and teachers being accused or convicted of sex-related crimes. It is uncertain whether the problem is growing or whether abuse is being reported more often.
But some officials fear that predatory teachers are getting away with sexual misconduct because students and parents are afraid to come forward.
``You are looking at a person who is in such a position of authority and is in a position of manipulating a young mind, somehow it just seems worse'' than other sexual misconduct cases, said Grady County prosecutor Lesley March.
``These children are in a situation of loving this person and admiring this person, and that's what makes this difficult,'' March said.
A new law that goes into effect Nov. 1 will permit authorities to file rape charges against teachers and administrators involved in consensual sexual relationships with students aged 16 or 17.
The statute will make it a crime for a school district employee to have sex with a student under age 18 in the same district. Teens can consent to a sexual relationship at age 16 under current law.
``I don't think this is a common occurrence in our schools, but this is a situation where one time is too many,'' said Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, who authored the law.
``They need to understand the gravity of the situation. Students are simply off-limits,'' said state Superintendent of Schools Sandy Garrett.
Most cases of sexual misconduct between school teachers and their students involve men sexually assaulting girls.
But in Oklahoma, a woman cheerleading coach has been accused of molesting an eighth-grade cheerleader and a male coach has been accused of molesting boys on his team.
Between 1986 and 1993, the state Department of Education revoked a total of 11 teaching certificates, seven involving sexual misconduct. Nearly all of the reports of sexual misconduct involved students.
Since 1994, however, a total of 27 teaching certificates have been revoked, including 17 for teachers involved in sex-related crimes.
``There's obviously more cases,'' said Kay Harley, an attorney for the Education Department.
``Whether it's from awareness that it needs to be reported or because it's happening more, who knows? It's a fact, though, it's being reported to us more often,'' Harley said.
Last year, three teachers had their teaching certificates revoked after being convicted of sex crimes with their students or lying about such crimes on their application for a certificate. Another was convicted on six felony counts of owning obscene videos of minors.
So far this year, eight educators have been stripped of their right to teach. The Education Department said five were convicted of sex-related crimes with children.