Book bans won’t stop ‘cleaning up’ classrooms, experts say

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Rep. Jake Hoffman quotes a statement from an 18-year-old professor who has conducted studies on educator misconduct. She says her ban would do nothing to prevent abuse.

PHOENIX — The sponsor of an Arizona bill which would ban sexually explicit books in schools is rallying supporters saying the legislation would “help end sexual grooming” in the classroom.

But an expert quoted by the bill’s sponsor, Republican State Rep. Jake Hoffman, says Hoffman was wrong: A ban on the books wouldn’t protect school children.

“I’ve read the legislation and, frankly, I’m puzzled,” said Dr Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who has studied sexual misconduct by educators for 30 years.

“I don’t know what problem he’s trying to solve…I don’t see anywhere in this legislation that he would do anything to mitigate sexual misconduct by school employees.”

Hoffman’s bill, HB2495, stalled in the state Senate after it passed the full House.

Senate approval would send the bill to Governor Doug Ducey’s office for his signature.

In a message posted on his Telegram account on Friday, Hoffman urged supporters to contact senators.

“We cannot allow the sexualization and sexual grooming of children in Arizona,” he wrote in block letters.

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Echoes national rhetoric

When speaking about the bill in the House in February, Hoffman said it was “nothing more than protecting the innocence of Arizona children from sexually explicit content.”

Hoffman’s accelerated rhetoric on “grooming” echoes a talking point for Republicans nationwide.

Critics say Republicans are trying to sow doubt among parents about what schools are teaching their children. The legislation is also seen as part of an assault on LGBT rights in GOP-controlled state capitals across the country.

Hoffman released a statement from 18-year-old Shakeshaft that sexual abuse in schools was likely much worse than abuse by clergy:

“Physical sexual abuse in schools is probably more than 100 times greater than abuse by priests,” she wrote in a 2004 US Department of Education paper commissioned by the US Senate.

“Misuse of my research”

Shakeshaft’s study of complaints of sexual abuse in schools during the 1990s would have been the first of its kind.

“It’s a misuse of my research, and it’s just misleading to people,” Shakeshaft said of Hoffman’s post.

“As I wrote this, there was not much attention paid to schools and workplaces to keep children safe in schools from sexual misconduct by school employees… So the goal was just to try to get people to focus on how important schools were, in terms of stopping the sexual abuse of students by school employees.”

Hoffman provided this answer:

“The growing trend of showing sexually explicit material to children in Arizona schools is wrong at all levels. (This bill) protects children by ensuring that schools will not be permitted to use or direct the students to sexually explicit material.”

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Shakeshaft: sex education helps

A joint investigation three years ago by KJZZ radio and the Arizona Republic revealed vulnerabilities in the state’s system for disciplining teachers accused of sexual misconduct.

Shakeshaft says the best way to stop sexual predators is to take sex education classes.

“We have very good evidence that…the kinds of things that are taught in sex education help children and adolescents identify harmful behaviors or patterns, and help them learn to report them and protect themselves. .”

Shakeshaft is part of a team evaluating a program to prevent sexual misconduct by school employees, as part of a $1.6 million grant from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have top-notch training for schools…and it’s free,” she said.

Shakeshaft has provided its email address for any school district that might be interested in the training.

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