Legislation filed on Thursday would increase the criminal penalties on North Carolina school employees who have sex with students and on school administrators who fail to promptly report the misconduct.
The “Protect Our Students Act” was requested by State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, who said the legislation was needed to address the “heinous activity” that some teachers were engaging in with students.
The legislation comes after several cases of school employees being arrested for sexual offenses against students. “I sign license revocations every month, every month for teachers who have behaved inappropriately with students,” Truitt, a Republican, said at last week’s meeting of the state House K-12 Education Committee. “We need to tighten our restrictions around this incredibly heinous activity that we are seeing more and more occur in our middle and high schools.”
Under House Bill 142, engaging in sexual activity with a student or taking indecent liberties with a student would be elevated from a Class I felony to a Class G felony.
REQUIRED TO REPORT MISCONDUCT
The legislation also puts more of an onus on school leaders to report licensed employees such as teachers who engage in misconduct. The state can revoke the licenses of teachers who engage in misconduct.
The bill says superintendents, assistant superintendents, associate superintendents, personnel administrators or principals must report any teacher who they know or have reason to believe has engaged in misconduct resulting in dismissal, disciplinary action or resignation.
The school leaders would have to report the misconduct to the State Board of Education within five days of dismissal, determination of disciplinary action or acceptance of resignation of the employee. Failure to report misconduct would be a Class I felony.
Schools across the nation have been accused of “passing the trash,” allowing teachers who’ve been accused of misconduct to resign and then go on to teach in other districts.
North Carolina made national headlines in 2016 when USA Today gave the state an F grade for screening people applying to become teachers. USA Today quoted a state task force report that said “many other states require fingerprint background checks before issuing a license.” It recommended that North Carolina follow suit.
Also under the legislation, school districts and charter schools would be required to show middle school and high school students a video produced by the Center for Safer Schools containing age-appropriate information about sexual abuse.