LOGAN SQUARE — A state bill aimed at closing a loophole that doesn’t criminalize some sexual misconduct in schools could soon become law after two years of advocacy — and as a sexual abuse scandal unfolds at a Logan Square school.
The bill — HB1975, also known as Faith’s Law — was sent to Gov. JB Pritzker’s office Monday, just days after a Chicago Public Schools inspector general report exposed sexual abuse, misconduct, harassment and grooming at Marine Leadership Academy in Logan Square.
Pritzker and his team are “reviewing the bill and look forward to taking action on it soon,” Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email Tuesday.
The bill, filed by Rep. Michelle Mussman, a Democrat representing suburban Schaumburg, would expand the state’s criminal code to make it illegal for school employees to groom students for sexual relationships. It also increases protections for sexual abuse survivors and their families.
Grooming in Illinois law is defined as luring a child into unlawful sex using the internet. The bill would update the definition to include in-person interactions and written communication, said Faith Colson, the bill’s namesake. Colson was sexually abused by a teacher about 20 years ago while in high school in Schaumburg.
Colson’s bill would also create a resource guide for students, parents and teachers on sexual abuse response and prevention and strengthen training for teachers around the subject.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez pointed to the current law last week as one of the major challenges of the Marine Leadership Academy case. Multiple adults groomed students for sexual relationships, but, in some cases, there was no indication sex acts occurred until students graduated and were legally adults. That meant there is little recourse to prosecute them, Martinez said.
At least 10 school employees were fired last week after the CPS inspector general investigation revealed a pattern of sexual abuse at the school. Some were fired for sexually abusing and grooming students, and others were fired for helping to cover up that misconduct.
“As of today, it is not illegal to be grooming students,” Martinez said last week. “As of today, it is not illegal for staff to wait for students to turn 18 to have sexual relationships. … That’s what exists today. … These are loopholes that exist today.”
Colson said while she’s relieved the bill is finally poised to become law, she’s disappointed it’s taken this long for it to reach the governor’s desk.
The bill passed the House this spring, but it initially didn’t get through the Senate because of objections over language. An amended version passed the Senate in late October.
Had the bill become law sooner, it could have sped up investigations at Marine Leadership Academy and helped students and their families as they were going through trauma, Colson said. Still, the legislation wouldn’t have stopped administrators and other school employees from failing to report abuse to CPS officials, one of the most troubling allegations to come out of the scandal, she said.
“In my case, it was the abuser and it was a lot of people doing nothing. And when they did nothing, they helped him, not me,” Colson said. “That’s what makes me sad about this situation. It wasn’t that there were just some bad apples who were out to harm kids; it was that there were people who [covered it up]. That is just so upsetting.”
Faith’s Law made it to Pritzker’s desk about two years after Colson and Mussman began working on the bill. The legislation advanced within days of CPS officials announcing the extent of the Marine Leadership Academy allegations, but that could be a coincidence. In an email, Mussman said she couldn’t confirm that the scandal “put [the bill] on a faster path than it was already naturally on.”
Pritzker’s “office has been supportive of this bill all along. I certainly did reach out again after the news broke to remind them of how important the bill is, based on the revelations, but again, I do not have any reason to believe the governor would need prodding to sign it or was having any hesitation about doing so,” Mussman said.
In an effort to get the bill through the Senate, Colson said they were forced to drop important components, including increased protections for 18-year-old students. Colson said she hopes the Marine Leadership Academy case will convince lawmakers to reconsider those protections.
Mussman said she plans to introduce another bill around sexual abuse prevention and response in the spring. An initial draft has already been submitted to the state’s legislative research bureau for review, she said.
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November 24, 2021 at 04:53PM