By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org
It’s called “passing the trash” — moving an abusive teacher to a different school district, often with glowing recommendations.
And if Pennsylvania lawmakers approve Senate Bill 46, it’s going to be more difficult for school districts to do it.
The bill, which passed unanimously in the state Senate in June, was prompted by the murder of a West Virginia fifth grader in 1997, bill sponsor Sen. Anthony Williams said.
Jeremy Bell, 12, was killed by his teacher after months of sexual molestation, Bell’s family alleged in a lawsuit against Fayette County Board of Education, even though his parents and teachers had reported the molestation to the board, according to the Fayette Tribune.
His teacher began working in Fayette County in 1975, after being fired for sexual misconduct from Interboro School District, where he had taught for nine years, the West Virginia Record reports. The school district and the state’s board of education pushed letters of recommendation written by former co-workers when he moved to Fayette County, the Record reports.
The state did not have a law that would have prevented Bell’s death, Williams said.
It’s only “after someone’s raped or assaulted or, unfortunately, murdered, that it’s possible to take them to court and convict them — rather than do something proactive,” he said.
“I sponsored this because there wasn’t any protection for children or adults who want to provide some protection.”
The bill requires anyone applying for a teaching position to provide information on prevision employers, written authorization for a records release from previous employers and a written statement reviewing any past sexual misconduct investigations.
Prospective employers would be required to contact those previous employers, find out about any past sexual misconduct and verify the applicant’s certifications.
The bill prohibits any confidential agreements that could keep sexual misconduct secret, and requires teachers to undergo training so they can recognize signs of abuse.
It also defines “sexual misconduct” broadly enough to include most grooming behaviors.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association is not opposing the bill, but it’s not actively supporting it, either.
“We’re for legislation which will help ensure student safety, at the same time, protecting our member’s rights to due process,” said Wythe Keever, PSEA spokesman.
PSEA initially had concerns about due process protections, but they worked with legislators to modify the bill from the original version, Keever said.
“More and more people are talking about it, and more and more cases are coming to light, most recently, a few in our area where administrators, not teachers, were involved with children,” Williams said. “There’s increasing coverage of this set of circumstances, so I think it’s important that we get this bill passed and become law.”
Williams said he hopes the bill will make it through the House and land on the governor’s desk for his consideration during the legislative session.
Contact Mary C. Tillotson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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