As legislative session is starting to wind down, the Tennessee General Assembly is proposing necessary changes that the members of Professional Educators of Tennessee strongly support. We have had input throughout this process, and will continue to add insight on this critical issue. We must get this right for both students and educators.
The safety and well-being of students is the highest priority of any school. Bringing clarity to this issue will ensure educators that adequate policies and procedures are in place for dealing with sexual misconduct while maintaining the safest school environment possible. We do not have a place for pedophiles in public education. We support the strongest language possible to keep them out of the education profession.
In 2016, USA Today graded Tennessee with an “F” following a national investigation of educator sexual misconduct in schools after looking at each state’s efforts to reduce the chances that an employee with a history of sexual misconduct could move from one school to another without repercussions.
The Tennessee Senate Education Committee has already passed legislation to prevent sexual misconduct by teachers with their students. The Tennessee House of Representatives is now moving forward to tackle the issue. The legislative package follows a comprehensive report from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson which revealed severe deficiencies in hiring practices for school personnel that could allow predators to teach in Tennessee schools. The review and analysis makes clear that we must keep those who have committed sexual misconduct out of our classroom.
- House Bill 2009/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.
- House Bill 2099/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.
- House Bill 2165/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 with alcohol or drugs.
- House Bill 1997/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.
- House Bill 2433/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.
- House Bill 2494/Senate Bill 2390 prohibits school employees, directors of schools, and employees and members of a local board of education or governing body of a public charter school from assisting an employee in obtaining a job at another school for any position that involves direct contact with minors or students, if on notice, or there is reasonable cause to suspect, that the employee has committed an act of misconduct.
A federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was approved by Congress in December 2015. One of its provisions was meant to end the practice of school districts passing along employees who had committed sexual misconduct. This happened by districts quietly dismissing the employee while giving him or her a neutral or good recommendation.
Any educator sexual misconduct or sexual abuse that involves children destroys trust and harms the entire school community. We must unite to all promote safety and security within Tennessee’s classrooms and uphold the high standards of the teaching profession. Bringing clarity to this issue will not only benefit highly qualified educators, it will insure that sexual predators do not “slip between the cracks” and do further harm to our students and schools.
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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Professional Educators of Tennessee is a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.