California classrooms may soon be safer thanks to a pair of new laws signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).
The bills are designed to close loopholes that allowed teachers accused or even convicted of sexual misconduct or drug crimes to work in public school classrooms. The measures were spurred by a 2007 Associated Press report that found 25 percent of all disciplinary actions against teachers nationwide involved sexual misconduct.
The report revealed more than 300 California teachers had their licenses suspended or revoked for sexual misconduct.
State Sen. Bob Margett (R-Glendora) introduced SB 1105, which prevents teachers who plead no contest to sex or drug crimes from teaching in California classrooms. Prior to the new law, teachers were allowed to continue working with students while the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) conducted an investigation.
State Sen. Jack Scott (D-Pasadena) also targeted suspect teachers with his bill, SB 1110.
“Basically, this law reads that if another state has revoked a teaching license for bad behavior or misconduct, the California Commission on Teaching Credentials has to immediately suspend their license while conducting an investigation,” said Scott’s spokesperson, Wendy Gordon. “If you look at the original language of the bill, you’ll see that the initial goal was to be even harsher and revoke the license in California altogether.”
The new law also calls for revocation of a teaching license if the educator has been convicted of a crime that includes a “no contact with minors” provision.
“SB 1110 ensures that educators who have engaged in serious misconduct are quickly removed from the schools, while at the same time allowing the CTC to determine their fitness to maintain a valid California credential,” Scott said in an August press release. “The measure has been crafted to protect our students and protect the due process rights of the credential holder.”
Schwarzenegger signed the two laws in late September. SB 1105 is scheduled to take effect in January 2009. The rules outlined in SB 1110 already have been added to the state’s education code.
School Adjustments Necessary
Evelyn Stacey, a research associate in education studies at the Pacific Research Institute, a research group with offices in Sacramento and San Francisco, says the new laws are a great way to make schools safer.
“It sounds like the teachers association doesn’t like the laws because of the amount of evidence needed to revoke a credential,” Stacey said. “Overall, from what I know about teacher unions, they don’t like changing the way things are, and their job is to protect teachers.
“If more teachers are being accused of sexual misconduct or other behavior than are actually guilty, then it’s not a good law for them,” Stacey continued. “If teachers are removed from schools due to these laws, they will have to find new teachers to substitute at the last minute, which is hard because there is a shortage of ready-to-go teachers. It sounds like their argument is that they want the teachers to work while under investigation—sort of an innocent-until-proven-guilty kind of thing.”
Advocacy Groups Opposed Change
The Association of California School Administrators, California School Boards Association, and Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s largest school district, supported the laws’ passage, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and California Teachers Association (CTA) did not.
Margett had some harsh words for the teachers union.
“Why a group who represents teachers would want a sex offender teaching in the classroom is beyond me,” Margett stated in an August press release. “The ACLU is one thing, but for a teachers union to oppose a measure designed to make our schools safer is just plain baffling.”
CTA did not respond to calls for comment on its position.
Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.
For more information …
“AP: Sexual Misconduct Plagues US Schools,” by Martha Irvine and Robert Tanner, the Associated Press, October 21, 2007: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/21/AR2007102100144.html