SPRINGBORO, Ohio — The case of a Springboro gym teacher accused of inappropriately touching up to 88 first-grade girls is raising concern and questions from parents across our area.
Namely, how did it go on for three months, and how should parents talk to their kids.
Springboro school leaders told WCPO that security video of the incidents with John Austin Hopkins in the school gymnasium show he was never alone with any of his victims.
“Unfortunately, this gives a really good example of how come we should be starting early and having those conversations intermittently with kids,” said Heidi Malott, clinical program manager at the Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children.
Conversations about kids’ bodies particularly aren't easy. Ask any parent. It's especially hard with kids as young as those Hopkins was teaching at Clearcreek Elementary.
Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said Hopkins “groomed” the first graders and was being “manipulative.”
“Frankly they loved him as a teacher because of the amount of affection he was showing them,” Fornshell said Monday in announcing an indictment charging Hopkins with 36 counts of gross sexual imposition.
“I think what happens in a lot of these cases is not only do they groom the children, they groom the adults around the children,” said Malott.
Malott sees a lot of cases of sexual abuse in her job. Here's how she says parents should bring it up with first graders.
“If anyone would touch you in a way that you didn't like or made you worry, you would never be in trouble and should always come to me about that,” she said.
“As they get older, you can fill in the conversation with what would be more age-appropriate.
“I think a lot of parents feel uncomfortable raising this conversation with their children. But just as we talk about bullying and other health and safety issues, parents need to be talking to their kids about this issue, about body safety,” Malott said.
“The biggest tip is to give kids the anatomically correct names for their body parts because a lot of times if kids don't have the words, they won't be able to tell in a way adults will understand.”
Meanwhile, Springboro Schools is providing a support group for parents through the Child Advocacy Center of Warren County,
The district said it will keep that group together as long as parents need it.
A Springboro schools spokesman, Scott Marshall, said there is no rule to prohibit adults from being alone with kids, but none of the instances caught on security camera were with a student one-on-one.
As for why the alleged repeated touchings never raised a red flag, even though the prosecutor said they were all caught on video:
“It takes a lot,” Marshall said. ”You know, you stack them all up and you look at them, and then it kind of raises an eyebrow. If you see just one, it may not raise an eyebrow … There's some that would, absolutely, so you know just kind of looking at it from that standpoint.”
A doorbell seen on the gym has raised eyebrows. The district says the gym door was never locked - and rarely ever closed.
Malott says the lesson for parents right now is to be upfront and open.
“The number one thing that can change the outcome for kids is the support of their parents at the time of disclosure or discovery,” Malott said.
Hopkins will be arraigned in Warren County Thursday afternoon.