JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – A new state law is meant to stop schools from quietly passing along to other districts teachers accused of sexual improprieties with students. The practice has been a dirty little secret for decades in school districts nationwide.
School administrators, fearful of community criticism, generally allow such teachers to resign, with the understanding that nothing will be said about it. The buck-passing also stems from fear of lawsuits that may result from firing teachers for behavior in which there are only two witnesses, both of whom may be unwilling to testify.
“Failure to ruin someone’s career is generally less actionable than ruining someone’s career,” said one attorney with knowledge of such a case.
Missouri’s Senate Bill 54 requires school districts that have employed a staff member with a substantial allegation involving sexual misconduct to disclose the allegation if approached by another school district for a reference.
School districts that fail to disclose such allegations could be sued if the former staff member abuses a student in the new district.
The law also sets policies for online communications between students and teachers.
Supporters of the law claim it will keep students safer.
Opponents criticized the online policies, claiming it restricts teachers’ ability to use the Internet as a learning tool.
The law was written after The Associated Press reported in 2007 that 87 licensed Missouri teachers had lost their credentials between 2001 and 2005 due to sexual misconduct with students.
The AP reported that some of the teachers were able to get new teaching jobs elsewhere in the state because their former employers did inform the new employers of the sexual misconduct allegations.
Congress has investigated the buck-passing in federal schools for Indians, including the case of John Boone, who compiled a chart detailing what he had done to 142 of his sexual abuse victims over the years. Boone and other Bureau of Indian Affairs teachers were allowed to continue teaching despite truckloads of red flags, Congress found.
But the buck-passing is not limited to federal schools. In fact, quietly passing along such teachers is the rule rather than the exception, according to an investigative reporter who has written on the subject.
“Every superintendent and just about every principal I talked to said he or she was aware of the problem – but it had always happened in another district,” the reporter said.