The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape supports legislation that would close a loophole in a law that allows school employees accused of sexual misconduct – but not convicted of a crime – to work in other school districts undetected.
Under the state's existing law, a school district employee accused of sexual misconduct can resign from the district and then seek and obtain employment in another school district with the new school district unaware of the accusations.
House Bill 2063 would require all schools to conduct employment history reviews before offering a job to a person who would have direct contact with children. The bill would also prohibit districts from hiding allegations of abuse by preventing them from entering into confidentiality agreements with former or current staff accused of abusing students.
The legislation also protects school employees and contractors from lawsuits regarding the release of employees' information to other employers.
Kristen Houser, spokesperson for PCAR says the legislation will help better protect children in Pennsylvania.
"The reality is people who sexually abuse children look for opportunities to have access to kids, in particular, when they're in positions that have trust inherent with them," Houser says. "While most people who teach school are upstanding employees ...i t's certainly an environment where some people who might have other interests may flock to for employment."
Houser says PCAR sees "plenty of cases in Pennsylvania" where there are teachers who have been charged with abusing children who were under their care.
"This legislation is really important because most cases don't make it into the criminal justice system, that's why it's important we have opportunities to inform school districts if someone lost their job for sexual misconduct," Houser says.
Houser says it is difficult to say whether such a law would have prevented the abuse at the hands of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is now a convicted pedophile. However, she notes there are thousands of cases across the state that will be helped by this law.
The state House approved the bill last week. The legislation is now before the state Senate.
State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County, voted for the bill.
"There are few things in this world as sickening as a person in a position of authority who takes advantage of a student," Benninghoff says. "This bill would protect our students who can be vulnerable to the influence of a sexually abusive school employee."
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