Marian Stephens talks to Rotary
Rotary Club of Tehachapi
April 30, 2022
On April 14, Rotarian Marian Stephens gave a craft talk to the Rotary Club of Tehachapi. Stephens has 45 years of experience in public education. She was a teacher, an assistant principal, a high school principal for 21 years and she served as a superintendent for a total of 10 years in both Pennsylvania and California. She was the first female superintendent in Tehachapi.
Fifteen years ago, Stephens began what she refers to as her second career as a consultant and expert witness in cases that deal solely with education. She works with attorneys from all over the country, first to help determine the validity of possible cases. Once a case is established, she is then asked to review thousands of documents to determine the facts (exactly what happened, who was involved, what codes and policies were in place and what violations occurred). Her job is to formulate expert opinions based on her experience, education codes or school district policies.
Once she has given her expert opinion, she is deposed by the opposition. Although this is not supposed to last longer than eight hours, her longest deposition took 16 hours! The opposing attorneys are always looking for a way to discredit witnesses, so sometimes these sessions can become quite heated. Once the deposition is finished, the consultation is usually over. The attorneys then try to reach an agreement. If they can't agree, they go to court where the consultant offers expert testimony.
According to Stephens, the issue she's been consulted about most often is sexual abuse in schools. It's become an alarmingly commonplace crime. Stephens stressed that in her experience the perpetrators are "always popular, they are always well-liked, they are always the first to help out in a situation, they are always liked by parents." In other words, they're usually the last person someone would suspect of pedophilia. These individuals often seek employment as coaches, because of the physicality that goes with sports. It's much easier for a coach to find ways to touch students without arousing suspicion than it is for a classroom teacher. That said, many of these perpetrators are teachers, aides, school bus drivers, custodians and even older students. Stephens said that the initial contact is usually a test - an innocuous, seemingly innocent touch designed to gauge the minor's reaction. If the minor does not voice an objection, the next step is to be singled out by the perpetrator for abuse. Once the child is being abused, grooming occurs. That's when the adult lavishes the victim and/or the victim's family with gifts, money, outings and other "perks." The average offender has victimized 11-40 minors.
One way to help safeguard your child is to send a letter to your child's school stating that you do not want your child to be alone with or touched by any school personnel, except in the case of an emergency and there is another person either present or on their way.
All too often, teachers and other school staff do not report incidents of sexual abuse or the suspicion of abuse (probably from a fear of being mistaken) to the proper authorities. But because they are mandated reporters, failure to do so makes them liable for the abuse from the time they knew about it until it is finally discovered.
Going forward, Stephens would like to see at least three changes in the way things are done at the school level. First, mandated reporters who see things and don't report them must be prosecuted. Next, there should be better supervision of staff by principals and their teams. And finally, mandated reporting training should occur every six months (instead of once a year or every other year).
The Rotary Club of Tehachapi is a volunteer service organization with the motto, "Service Above Self." The club meets on Thursdays at noon. For more information about Rotary Club, you can visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RotaryClubofTehachapi/ or contact club President Paul Kaminski, (661) 699-5851.