JANESVILLE, Wis. – The movie “Spotlight,” which recently won the 2016 Academy Award for Best Picture, is a true tale of how the Boston Globe repeatedly ignored tips about widespread sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, before finally exposing the issue.
There has been a steady stream of incidents reported in local newspapers across the state over the past few years, but are journalists failing to connect the dots so they can warn the public of a widespread and growing danger?
The latest case in Wisconsin became public on Tuesday, when a teacher who allegedly engaged in “inappropriate actions” with a student shot and killed himself during a traffic stop.
“Justin A. Long, 30, of Janesville, was found dead in his vehicle on Janesville’s Northeast Side after police pulled Long over, ordered him to get out of his vehicle and then heard a gunshot,” according to Madison.com.
Long taught at Janesville’s Franklin Middle School and was a tennis coach at two of the district’s high schools, the news service reported.
Janesville police had questioned Long regarding allegations that he “shared an image of male genitalia” with a student and “conversed and conducted himself inappropriately” with the same child, according to Madison.com.
Afterward, police were informed that Long had purchased a gun and left suicide notes, the news service reported. He was later pulled over and the suicide occurred.
A growing list
There have been numerous other reports of teachers molesting students in Wisconsin in recent years.
In January, a New Berlin high school teacher was fired after allegedly having a sexual relationship with a student.
In 2015, a former Abbotsford math teacher was convicted and sentenced to four years of probation for having sexual contact with two students.
In 2015, a former North Fond du Lac teacher was sentenced to four years in prison for the sexual assault of a special education student.
In 2015, a former Menomonee Falls High School teacher was arrested after admitting to having sex with a 16-year-old student at least 12 times in a classroom.
In 2015, a fifth-grade teacher and coach in the Cumberland school district was arrested for allegedly having sex with an underage student.
In 2014, a Green Bay elementary teacher was charged with having sexual contact with an 8-year-old student.
In 2014, a former Messmer High School teacher was sentenced to four years in prison for having sexual contact with two students.
In 2013, a Milwaukee charter school official was charged with 14 felonies following accusations that he molested at least three students.
In 2011, a former Fond du Lac teacher was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation for having sex with a female student.
In 2011 a former Wausaukee teacher was sent to prison for having sexual contact with a high school student.
That’s just a partial list, compiled from a quick Internet search.
Between 2009 and 2014, Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers “revoked eight (teaching) licenses because of sexual assault of children, possession of child pornography or soliciting sex from minors,” according to Watchdog.org.
“Evers also revoked the licenses of two teachers who allegedly accessed pornography at school and one who allegedly used social media for inappropriate relationships with underage students. Police were involved in two of those instances, but criminal charges weren’t issued.”
Swept under the rug
The number of teachers arrested for molesting students has grown exponentially across the nation in recent years, according to numerous reports.
Experts say the problem has grown since the advent of various forms of social media, which allow teachers to communicate privately with students.
They also agree that many cases have been unreported over the years, often because school administrators and union leaders quietly conspire to sweep incidents under the rug.
Many accused teachers have been allowed to quietly resign, often with letters of recommendation, and authorities are never alerted. Many of those same teachers are hired in other districts and repeat their crimes with other children, according to experts.
In 2006, teacher Anthony Hirsch was allowed to quietly resign in an agreement between the Madison school district and the teachers union, after a student accused him of touching her exposed leg and tapping her on the buttocks with rolled up papers, according to Madison.com.
The agreement, signed by a representative from Madison Teachers Inc., stipulated that the district would not notify the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction about the girl’s accusations.
Hirsch went on to secure employment at Waunakee Middle School. He resigned in 2008 following his arrest for possession of child pornography and having a sexual affair with a different student when he was still employed by the Madison district.
In 2013 a former Wisconsin teacher was arrested in Arkansas for allegedly luring two 16-year-old students into his home for sex.
Did any reporters working near his former district in Wisconsin do any digging to determine if there were reports of similar conduct before he moved to Arkansas?