Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno waves his father's jacket...

Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno waves his father's jacket as he gets off the team bus before an NCAA college football game against Nebraska in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Credit: AP Photo/John Beale

The sex abuse scandal at Penn State University is a tragedy on many levels, but let's not think it's just about Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky and the alleged victims. The rest of the country, including parents and educators on Long Island, can draw powerful lessons about what reportedly happened and what needs to change.

First and foremost, there is the pernicious face of child sexual abuse. Jerry Sandusky denied the charges in an NBC phone interview with Bob Costas, but his comments raised more questions than they answered. What happened and when? Who knew about it; what did they do about it? Why was Sandusky showering and engaging in horseplay with naked boys?

Pennsylvania law required only that child abuse be reported to school authorities. New York State, on the other hand, mandates that educators report suspicions directly to Child Protective Services. All teachers and administrators are required to take child abuse training before they become certified, and all know what their responsibilities are.

But let's not pat ourselves on the back so quickly. What happens when allegations are reported? I can tell you from experience as an administrator for many years that dealing with CPS can be frustrating and disillusioning. For example, despite overwhelming evidence in one case of suspected sexual molestation, I was told that CPS could not take action unless the child admitted to being abused. How probable is it that an abused child will admit to strangers that a family member or trusted adult is the abuser?

How likely is it for parents to notice that a respected authority figure or family friend is paying too much attention to their child? Although the Penn State fiasco and the Catholic Church scandal demonstrate that reporting laws need to be strengthened, that's only half the problem. If CPS can't get to the bottom of allegations, perhaps these cases should be reported to the police as well.

As is the case at Penn State, sports programs are king in many Long Island school districts. Athletic directors and coaches often have iconic status. Schools rely on their sports teams to bring them glory and honor. And parents believe -- usually erroneously -- that participation in sports will get their kids scholarships to the best colleges in the country. In fact, only a small minority of extremely talented athletes receives athletic scholarships.

And one more thing to consider: nepotism. Jay Paterno, Joe's son, is an assistant coach at Penn State and was on the field the Saturday after his father was fired, evoking sympathy for the former coach. How can anyone properly supervise, let alone discipline, friends and family members? There should be rules against nepotism, both on the field and in the schools.

This is particularly relevant in insular districts that seem to refrain, as much as possible, from hiring outside talent. In one district with which I am familiar, the superintendent, principals, and other administrators have close relatives working in the system. It is impossible for favoritism to be avoided and supervision to be evenhanded in those situations.

Sandusky had a long history with Paterno and Penn State. He played on the football team from 1963 to 1965, and in 1966, he served as a graduate assistant. He returned in 1969 and was Paterno's assistant coach until he retired in 1999. Was Paterno protecting Sandusky, Penn State or himself?

Long Island districts and their sports programs need to consider if there are similar "old boys' clubs" in our schools, financed with public money? Taxpayers and parents have a right to know. They have the right to expect that their children are safe at school and at after-school programs.

What's needed on the field and in our schools? We desperately need less idolatry, more integrity; less nepotism, more fairness; and unfortunately, less trust and more vigilance.

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