An 8-year prison sentence for a first grade teacher who molested his students recently sparked public outrage in Ohio, and some are now working to leverage the situation to change state law.
Former Springboro teacher John Austin Hopkins was sentenced to 8 years in prison last week for 27 counts of gross sexual imposition on girls in his first-grade gym class – a sentence that many believe to be far too light.
Hopkins’ sentence spawned four separate Change.org petitions that have gathered thousands of signatures of support for a range of proposals, from the death sentence for Hopkins to the removal of the judge in his case and reforms to sex-abuse prevention education.
The Dayton Daily News reports:
The investigation resulting in the criminal case was triggered in March 2019 when a girl came home excited to have gotten to sit on Hopkins’ lap. It identified 88 potential victims and resulted in 36 felony charges involving 28 girls; and guilty verdicts on 34 charges involving 27 girls.
The cases were largely based on surveillance video from a film loop of Hopkins’ classes at Clearcreek Elementary School from December 2018 to March 2019. Previous video was erased as the loop restarted.
Last year, Clearcreek Elementary implemented a “Child Safety Matters” program designed to help first-graders understand when they are being sexually abused, and also covers topics like cyberbullying. Parents can opt their children out of the program, and the district now collects feedback from parents through semi-annual surveys to identify potential problems earlier.
Parents of Hopkins’ victims filed a federal lawsuit against the teacher, school district and administrators to hold them accountable in the aftermath of his heinous crimes, but they’re also working with state Rep. Scott Lipps to change the law to mandate sex abuse education for all students.
Ohio lawmakers have considered similar legislation since 2014, and most recently shot down the idea last year despite support from Springboro parents, the Daily News reports.
Lipps contends the outrage over Hopkins’ sentence compelled him to rewrite the legislation to remove controversial sections and calm concerns.
“Once it hit Springboro, I had a ton of constituents say, ‘Is there anything you can do?’” Lipps said. “We’ve got legislation moving through the legislature.”
The theory behind the legislation is the young girls victimized by Hopkins might have spoken up sooner if they’d recognized what he was doing was wrong.
“I think we at least have a chance with the bill,” Lipps said, noting renewed interest in the House Education Committee.
Christine Summerour, who set up a Change.org petition calling for the sex abuse training, said parents of the victims are also looking for longer sentences in cases involving multiple victims.
“We just want the change,” she said.
“I can’t change Austin Hopkins’ sentence. I wish I could,” Summerour wrote in the petition. “The only thing I can do is protect more children in the future.”
The federal lawsuit, meanwhile, got the green light on Tuesday in federal court, allowing Hopkins’ victims to pursue their claims.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move ahead full steam in the near future,” Angela Wallace, lawyer representing the parents, told the Daily News.