Government
8:00 am
Mon February 20, 2012

New Bill Focuses on Reforming Teacher Hiring

Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia and Delaware) has introduced legislation that would close a "loophole" in the public school code known as "passing the trash."

"Passing the trash" occurs when a school district gives an educator accused of sexual misconduct incentives for resigning such as health benefits, letters of recommendation, and confidentiality agreements.

Senate Bill 1381 would force school districts to acquire information about possible sexual misconduct from a prospective employee's past employers. The senator said there is a "culture of secrecy" where many cases are not entered into the criminal justice system "but instead are handled through informal personnel actions within the relative privacy of school employee records," Williams said. "This is an outrageous practice that places the protection of the accused predator above the safety of our children."

Williams said the loophole was created because legislators depended too heavily on the criminal prosecution process, which only takes over once a crime occurs.

"While the person may be prosecuted — may be prosecuted — the scars will probably follow that student for the rest of their life," said Williams. "So, our hope is that, rather than being reactive, we can introduce a concept that's proactive in nature."

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, in the past year, 50 out of 100 notifications regarding educator disciplinary actions were related to sexual misconduct. 10 of those actions resulted in suspensions, while 24 were given the option to surrender their teaching certificate or face discipline.

Williams said "passing the trash" happens too often.

"Literally, in Pennsylvania, you have a registry of almost 800 people who may fall into that category. And that's underreported because, based on public hearings that we've had, many people simply don't want to come forward and they want to keep this quiet," said Williams. "And so, this preemptive step to protect children before crime is committed is one that's worked in other states, and we hope it will work in Pennsylvania."

Williams said the bill will help to ensure that children are learning in a safe environment. The legislation is currently under consideration by the Senate Education Committee.