Suburban lawmaker promotes 'Faith's Law' to combat sexual abuse in schools
In 2001, Faith Colson was a 17-year-old student at Schaumburg High School, where she was a varsity athlete and a good student with lots of friends. But something else was happening to Colson: She was being groomed by a teacher to be sexually manipulated.
There were warning signs, Colson and others said in police interviews years later that led to the arrest and 2019 guilty plea of former teacher Ronald L. Williams on charges of criminal sexual abuse.
Other teachers recalled hearing about the inappropriate relationship, including one who said Williams told him about it, according to police reports from 2018.
This is where Colson believes the problem lies, and it's why she has worked with state Rep. Michelle Mussman, a Democrat from Schaumburg, to write legislation, HB 1975, known as Faith's Law.
The legislation aims to educate teachers and school staffs about grooming and how to identify the warning signs that a teacher may be sexually abusing a student.
For Colson and Mussman, the legislation means making sure others student are protected.
"(Teachers) saw boundary violating behaviors, they saw inappropriate conduct, but because they didn't observe contact abuse, I think that's where the problem lies," Colson said. "In people's minds they think, 'Surely if a teacher was sexually abusing a child I would see that.'"
"That's where the misconception is, because no you won't," Colson said. "Abusers know how to hide the criminal behavior of sexual contact, but they're displaying these boundary violating behaviors that are observable."
Mussman's bill would make it mandatory for schools to develop a sexual misconduct code of conduct, review employment histories, and teach students about grooming and sexual misconduct in sex education. It also would allow for schools to set up two days of in-service learning for teachers to train on identifying such behavior and set up a resource guide on sexual abuse for parents.
Beginning with the next school year, all schools would have to complete the teacher training by Jan. 31 annually.
State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Democrat from Hoffman Estates, filed sister legislation to Mussman's bill, HB 3461, that also would require school districts to provide sexual abuse prevention training for students and staffs in schools. "The education for yourselves, for your colleagues and the ability to maybe better record or track (misconduct) is important," Mussman said. "That gray area is very hard to negotiate."
Teachers grooming students, essentially manipulating their trust and coercing them into sex, is the type of behavior this legislation aims to stop.
"This is a person who is in a position to decide your fate on a sports team, write a letter of recommendation or decide if you pass or fail a class. ... There is a lot going on here," Mussman said.
Colson said she grew to trust Williams beginning when she was a junior in high school. She said it began as special attention, a compliment here and there, and eventually it led to isolation, inappropriate conversations, secrecy and then sex.
After his guilty plea, Williams was sentenced to 30 months of sex offender probation, paid $1,554 in fines and was ordered to register as a sex offender for 10 years.
In a statement released after Williams' arrest, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 said DCFS, school officials and Schaumburg police investigated "suspicions about a relationship" in 2002 and "no findings of wrongdoing were discovered to have taken place during the period of the student's enrollment at the time of the initial investigation."
Colson believes most teachers want to protect students but struggle to identify the warning signs when abuse is happening.
"Most teachers would never abuse a child," she said "and most teachers could never imagine someone else using their teaching authority to abuse a child. But it is very easy for this to happen.
"My whole goal is to equip teachers who are bystanders, who are safe and who are good teachers, to equip them to help children from the predators that are there."
Faith's Law would take effect immediately if passed. On March 24 it passed through the House Education: School Curriculum and Policy Committee with a vote of 18-0.