The settlements with victims of clergy abuse for failing to investigate accusations and transferring suspected priests from parish to parish have now cost the Catholic Church hundreds of millions, and a severe loss of prestige and trust. Still, this lesson has not been heeded by school districts around the nation when it comes to dealing with staff who are similarly implicated. To battle what U.S. Representative Michael Fitzgerald, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, calls a pervasive problem of teachers “quietly leaving one district to transfer to another” when accused of sexual activity with minors, led him to introduce a bill that would impose penalties up to and including jail time for district officials who knowingly assisted such teachers in landing another job out of the area.
EAG.org, while applauding Fitzgerald’s effort, also believes that the bill should be expanded to include similar penalties for the teachers union officials who help their members walk away quietly from accusations of sexual misconduct. Furthermore, states should introduce legislation that would make it easier for school districts to fire teachers for this kind of crime, without having to go through the cumbersome union-mandated procedures.
Fitzgerald’s legislation (House Resolution 3766) is named the Jeremy Bell Act, after a 12-year-old West Virginia student who was sexually abused and murdered by his principal. The principal had been hired at the West Virginia school after losing his job at a Pennsylvania school following allegations of sexual misconduct.
However, the principal used letters of recommendation from his former employers to get hired at the West Virginia school that Jeremy Bell attended, Congressman Fitzpatrick said.
At the recent hearing on Fitzgerald’s proposal, held in Philadelphia, witnesses described their fruitless attempts to get districts and school officials to act on accusations of sexual abuse made by students. A mother of a student who was regularly having sex with his teacher before the beginning of class said that those in charge seemed entirely uninterested in taking action on her report and rather than having the school contact the police, she was forced to contact them herself.
She said she informed school authorities, but “the school didn’t report it to the police. I went to the police myself.”
Pennsylvania State Sen. Anthony Williams testified that his state’s Department of Education received 100 reports of disciplinary actions against teachers in 2011, and half of those incidents involved allegations of sexual misconduct.
In 24 of those cases, teachers were offered the option of giving up their state certification rather than face disciplinary action, Williams testified. The catch is that they may be able to be certified in another state, which could mean another teaching job and further abuse of students.
Williams also explained that these kinds of deals were frequently done at the behest of the teachers unions whose focus was to protect the teachers’ jobs rather than than ensure the safety of their students.
The unions declined to send a representative to the hearing.