Child sexual abuse prevention programs advance

Nebraska public schools would adopt programs intended to curb child sexual abuse under a bill advanced from the first round of debate March 22.

Sen. Joni Albrecht
Sen. Joni Albrecht

As introduced by Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, LB281 would require schools to adopt a child sexual abuse prevention program beginning with the 2022-23 school year for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“Our schools are in a unique position to help young people shape their positive, healthy behaviors, reducing their vulnerability to being sexually abused or assaulted,” she said. “LB281 will provide a guide — vetting programs and outlining developmentally appropriate ways to talk to children about this topic.”

Programs would include at least four instructional sessions per school year using age-appropriate curriculum, including role-playing, discussion, activities and books regarding body safety. They also would provide students with the knowledge and tools to communicate incidents of potential and actual sexual abuse.

A separate component for teachers, administrators and other school staff would include training in communicating child sexual abuse prevention techniques to students and receiving child sexual abuse reports and disclosures. Parents would receive information on prevention and how to discuss child sexual abuse with children.

LB281 would require the curriculum to be funded with money available under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

An Education Committee amendment, adopted 32-0, would extend the program through the twelfth grade and specify that the curriculum be evidence based.

Under the amendment, training for teachers, administrators and other school staff would be provided within the framework of existing state Department of Education programs. It also would require the department to develop a list of approved training materials.

Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, chairperson of the Education Committee, supported the amendment and LB281. She said the bill would further the committee’s primary goal: safe and healthy children in Nebraska schools.

“I am a firm believer in local control,” Walz said, “but this issue of protecting children from sexual abuse was just something that we felt as a committee was important.”

Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan supported the committee amendment and LB281. She said the Legislature shelved a similar proposal several years ago after the state Department of Education indicated that it would form a committee to create child sexual abuse prevention training for public schools.

“As soon as the Legislature adjourned for the year,” Linehan said, “the committee went away and no more work was done.”

Sen. Rich Pahls of Omaha questioned why LB281 would not also require private, denominational and parochial schools to adopt a child sexual abuse prevention program. He introduced an amendment that would do so but later withdrew it, saying he would discuss the idea with Albrecht before second-round debate on the bill.

Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt opposed LB281. Although supportive of the bill’s intent, she said lawmakers should leave curriculum decisions to the State Board of Education and the department, which already is working to include instruction similar to what LB281 would require in updated standards expected later this year.

“It’s not our business in the Legislature to be telling schools what their curriculum needs to be,” she said.

Hunt introduced an amendment that she said was intended to ensure a consistent source of funding for the curriculum if Congress does not renew the ESSA, which is approved only through this year.

The amendment, which failed on a vote of 16-24, would have stated legislative intent to appropriate funds for the curriculum if the ESSA funds are unavailable.

Senators then voted 32-1 to advance the bill to select file.

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