Miller and McCarthy to introduce legislation to prevent sex offenders from working in schools

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter

Tomorrow, members of the House Education and Labor Committee plan to introduce legislation that will prevent people convicted of sexual crimes against children from gaining employment in schools.

The legislation, sponsored by committee chairman Rep. George Miller of California and Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York, would require more stringent criminal background checks for potential hires.

The necessity of doing a criminal background check may appear to be self-evident, and legislation explicitly mandating it therefore considered redundant, but as The Daily Caller reported, a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office and conducted on behalf of the Education and Labor Committee found that such obvious measures were often not taken.

According to the report, “In at least 11 of these 15 cases,” that the report examined, “schools allowed offenders with histories of targeting children to obtain or continue employment. Even more disturbing, in at least 6 of the cases, offenders used their new positions as school employees or volunteers to abuse more children after they were hired.”

The problem, says Melissa Salmanowitz, spokeswoman for the Education and Labor Committee, is that legislation on this particular issue is imposed “state by state; in some cases, district by district.” As a result, the law is a patchwork on this subject, and there is no coherent requirement across the board.

The legislation that will be introduced tomorrow, she says, will “require comprehensive criminal background checks,” which means “using state criminal and child abuse registries, and the FBI’s finger print database.” The report found that in several cases, even when a criminal background check was conducted on a potential school employee, the proper databases were not consulted resulting in an inadequate check that failed to turn up the relevant information.

Anyone who has been convicted of “certain violent crimes, crimes against children, crimes involving rape or sexual assault, or child pornography” would not be eligible to be hired at a school in any capacity.

Registered sex offenders would also be explicitly prohibited from working at a school.

One issue that the report raised that the proposed legislation would not address is what happens when schools informally discharge an offender without taking any disciplinary action. In certain instances, the report found, offenders were allowed to resign, rather than being fired, which left no record of the problem. In some cases, they were even given favorable recommendations. According to a school official quoted in the report, this occurred, at least in part, because it is often “easier and faster for school administrators to remove a problem teacher informally in order to protect the children within their own district,” and because firing a teacher left the school vulnerable to a lawsuit.

When asked about the issue, Salmanowitz said that “Chairman Miller is hopeful that it will be an issue that we continue to look into in the next Congress.”