DAYTON, Tenn. — Rhea County school board members are considering stepping into the fight against child abuse by allowing a "safe touch" program in elementary schools.
County domestic violence investigator Rocky Potter told board members Thursday that he already has investigated 27 cases of child abuse this year, and the problem is growing. The program he recommended, presented by the Children's Advocacy Center of Chattanooga, offers age-appropriate information to help children differentiate between a "good touch," such as a loving hug, and a "bad touch" that should be reported to a trusted adult, he said.
"This is not a sex education program," Potter said. "It's a child abuse prevention program."
Director of Schools Jerry Levengood said, "This is not something I want to do, but it's something I think we need to do." He recommended board members and school administrators review the teaching materials before making a decision.
Board member Carroll Henderson asked, "Would it be appropriate for us in the school system to get into this type of thing? I realize more needs to be done, but is it our job?"
Member Bimbo McCawley suggested schools officials should contact other school systems where the program has been used to see how it has been received.
Board member John Mincy agreed.
"If we don't do this, we need to make sure somebody does," he said. "If we have 27 cases [of reported child abuse] in the first quarter, we have a problem."
In other matters, Levengood reported that he and Mincy met recently with state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, and state Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, to discuss building an overpass over the railroad tracks between U.S. Highway 27 and the new high school and middle school.
One overpass serves the present high school, which will become a middle school when the new high school opens this fall.
"No telling how long it will take to get the approvals from the railroad, the Department of Safety and the Department of Transportation, but we have to start," Levengood said.