Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), along with members of the Senate Education Committee, have filed five bills to prevent sexual misconduct by teachers with their students. The legislative package follows a comprehensive report from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson which revealed deficiencies in hiring practices for school personnel that could allow predators to slip through the cracks.
Other members of the committee include Senators Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol).
“While the vast majority of teachers act in a professional manner, these bills hold teachers who are in violation fully accountable,” said Senator Gresham. “Parents need to know when they send their child to a public school that he or she will be safe. This legislation works to close any potential loopholes to prevent predators from gaining employment or from moving to another school district when such reprehensible behavior occurs.”
The package includes:
· Senate Bill 2014 which ensures that background checks are conducted to identify sexual predators before a teacher license is issued and that reports are done on an ongoing basis for those who work with children. Presently, school districts require an initial background check before hiring.
· Senate Bill 2015 which prohibits a Local Education Agency (LEA) from entering into a non-disclosure agreement with a teacher that would prevent other school districts from knowing about sexual misconduct. It also allows districts to access information about the previous employment of a teacher with another school district.
· Senate Bill 2013 which updates the state’s Teacher Code of Ethics regarding inappropriate teacher-student relationships, including engaging in sexual behavior with students or furnishing them alcohol or drugs.
· Senate Bill 2011 which grants the State Board of Education’s authority to reprimand school directors for not reporting instances of misconduct and clarifies the board’s authority to reprimand educators for violating the Teacher Code of Ethics.
· Senate Bill 2012 which calls for the State Board of Education to post all final teacher disciplinary action on its website to allow school districts, as well as out-of-state entities responsible for the licensing and hiring of Tennessee educators, to access information regarding the final disciplinary action of an individual’s license case. It also requires final licensure action be reported to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) database for the same purpose.
In addition, committee members support an appropriation in the budget presented by Governor Bill Haslam on Monday for an additional staff attorney in the State Board of Education to review educator misconduct investigations and outstanding cases, and determine what licensure action, if any, should be taken.
“The proposed reporting requirements enhance information sharing, both in Tennessee and with other states, so that no predators can fall through the cracks. I believe we have a lot of support to move these bills forward,” Senator Gresham said.