By Mike Lear
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The House has proposed that school districts open up lines of communication with one another to stop employees with a history of abusing students from going from one district to another.
That is one of the things House Bill 739 aims to accomplish, according to its sponsor, Representative Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark).
“This bill would allow for school districts to contact an employee’s former employers from a list supplied by [The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education]. The schools would be required to disclose the actual violation of the schools’ regulations as it pertains to sexual misconduct with a student,” said Miller.
The legislation has the support of various child advocacy groups, who told lawmakers that right now, schools cannot share such information about former employees. This often allows individuals with a history of abuse to find jobs in other districts and to abuse more children.
One of Hazelwood Democrat Paula Brown’s previous jobs was in human resources in a school district. She said she was often in a terrible position.
“When someone calls to check a reference the only thing that we can reply with is, ‘We would not rehire them,’ with no explanation further than that,” said Brown. “This will free up HR directors and assistant superintendents to speak the truth. It will allow people not to be hired in other districts when they were fired from a different district,” said Brown.
“I think what we’re doing is not only saving children but affording school districts an opportunity not to be sued at the rate they are being sued at this point,” said Brown.
One provision added on the House Floor would require criminal background checks of anyone who volunteers with a school district, if that person will have regular or one-on-one contact with students or access to student records.
Representative Kathy Swan (R-Cape Girardeau) sponsored that amendment.
“We require background checks on school administrators, teachers, teachers’ aides, assistants, secretaries, cooks, bus drivers, and custodians, but not volunteers,” said Swan.
Another piece added by the full House extends the definition of those who can be found guilty of abuse to include any person who developed a relationship with a child through school, even if the abuse did not occur on school grounds or during school hours.
Representative David Wood (R-Versailles) said this would close a “loophole” child advocates described to him.
“If the offense would happen on school grounds that’s easy enough to take care of, but when the offense happens off those school grounds, there’s been four cases in the last two years that [investigators have] had a lack of a preponderance of evidence,” said Wood.
The bill adds two-and-a-half hours to the training required of new school board members, which would be focused on identifying signs of sexual abuse and potentially abusive relationships between adults and children. It would also require an hour of refresher training, annually.
Finally, the bill requires schools to offer students trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate sexual abuse training for grades six and above. Parents who don’t want their children to receive that training could choose to opt-out of it.
The House voted 150-4 to send the bill to the Senate.