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Leaders target teacher sexual misconduct after investigation

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The state government would open its now-secret books on teacher sexual misconduct in Maine. Missouri school districts would be barred from backroom deals that let misbehaving teachers quietly move on. New York would be able to swiftly remove convicted teachers' licenses.

Across the country, governors, legislative leaders and top education officials are pledging to close loopholes that have allowed teacher sexual misconduct to persist. In Congress, legislation that targets such misbehavior has gathered more sponsors.

The efforts follow an Associated Press investigation last month that found 2,570 educators nationwide whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 to 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct. Experts who track sexual abuse say those cases are representative of a much deeper problem.

There are roughly 3 million public school teachers nationwide.

In Congress, GOP Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida is the sponsor of a bill to create a national registry for teacher offenders and to set up toll-free hotlines to report allegations of abuse.

He's now been joined by Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Florida, who is sponsoring companion legislation to Putnam's proposal. Several other House members have signed on, too.

In Missouri, state Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, wants to prohibit confidentiality agreements between districts and teachers who commit sexual misconduct, after the AP turned up the case of a teacher who quietly moved on after more than a dozen accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct. The teacher taught at three more districts before his license was revoked for his past problems. "We need to know the level and the breadth of the problem in Missouri," Cunningham said. "We can't turn our back on a situation like this."

The Missouri State School Boards' Association raised doubts about an across-the-board ban on confidentiality agreements.

"Sometimes, there are good reasons a school board might have for confidentiality agreements," said association spokesman Brent Ghan. "Some protect the identity of students. Some protect the districts from costly litigation, saving taxpayer dollars."


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