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State lawmakers crack down on teacher misconduct

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
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State Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, addresses a Harrisburg rally on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, for his bill that prohibits “Passing the Trash,” or allowing school districts to let teachers resign quietly and pass them along to be rehired by another district, at the state Capitol. The rally was part of a national effort by S.E.S.A.M.E. (Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation) to enact similar legislation across the country.

Teacher misconduct and instances of student abuse have not escaped the attention of state lawmakers.

The General Assembly examined issues surrounding child abuse protection last fall, including recommendations made by a statewide task force.

Among the measures:

• A proposal by Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, aims to stop the practice of “passing the trash,” or allowing school districts to let teachers resign and get jobs with other districts.

Williams' bill, approved by the Senate and pending in the House, would allow a prospective employer to find out why a teacher resigned if the original district investigated sexual misconduct or abuse allegations. Currently, districts can refuse to release this information because of agreements with teachers under investigation.

A similar measure by Rep. Dave Maloney, R-Berks County, is pending before the House.

• Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, introduced a bill to combine the terms “student abuse” and “child abuse” so all reports would go directly to county children and youth agencies. The bill was approved by the Senate and is pending before the House. Currently, suspected child abuse that occurs outside a school is reported to the county agency; suspected abuse in schools is reported to local law enforcement and district attorneys.

• A measure by Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster — signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett in December — expands the authority of the Professional Standards and Practices Commission, which takes disciplinary action against teaching certifications, by allowing it to establish fines and fees.

Among its other provisions, the law eliminates a one-year statute of limitations for filing misconduct complaints, expands mandatory reporting and provides immunity from civil lawsuits for districts that provide accurate teacher references involving professional misconduct.

— Kari Andren and Kate Wilcox

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