While a “pass the trash” bill designed to prevent teachers accused of sexual misconduct from quietly resigning and moving to another district has stalled in the state House, a bill with similar intentions is being pushed on the national level by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley.
Toomey introduced Senate Bill 1596, the “Protecting Students From Sexual and Violent Predators Act” last October. It is intended to set uniform minimum background check requirements for all public schools nationwide, Toomey Press Secretary Steve Kelly said.
Kelly cited a Government Accounting Office report released in January on how federal agencies could support state efforts in preventing sexual child abuse by school personnel. “Five states don’t have any background check laws at all,” Kelly said.
Pennsylvania law requires three clearances for public school employees and independent contractors who come in direct contact with students: A state police criminal records check, state Department of Public Welfare child abuse history clearance and an FBI Federal Criminal History check.
The state clearances only have to be conducted prior to hiring a person. In the wake of several recent teacher misconduct allegations, Wilkes-Barre Area School Board voted unanimously to require teachers to pass background checks every three years.
In order to further tighten background checks, the state Senate recently passed Senate Bill 46, dubbed the “Pass the trash” bill.
It would require the hiring district to request, and the sending district to provide, written information regarding any investigation of abuse or sexual misconduct by a teacher, and any discipline or other action — including resignation — done during a pending investigation. The bill protects districts from criminal liability in issuing the reports and explicitly says the reports are not public record.
The Senate unanimously approved the measure as did the House Education Committee, but it stalled there. A mirror bill, House Bill 2063, was introduced Monday and sent to the Education Committee.
Toomey’s bill in the U.S. Senate would set background requirements similar to those mandated in Pennsylvania for any school receiving federal money nationwide.
The bill would require a state criminal check, a “state-based child abuse and neglect” check, an FBI fingerprint check, and a search of the National Sex Offender Registry. A candidate who refuses to consent to the checks, makes false statements in connection to such reviews or has been convicted of a list of felonies and crimes could not be hired.
The bill also would codify what Wilkes-Barre Area has done by requiring the background checks be “periodically repeated or updated.”
And while Toomey’s bill does not require the detailed exchange of information that would be mandated under the state bills, it does specify that any school or district receiving federal money under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act “may not knowingly transfer or facilitate the transfer of any school employee if the agency knows, or has substantive reason to believe, that such employee engaged in sexual misconduct with an elementary school or secondary school student.”
Kelly said the U.S. House passed the bill and Toomey is pushing to get it on the Senate floor for a full vote.