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NEA, AFT remain silent as states move to ban secret union deals that protect pedophile school employees

Sep 20, 2017 by

LAS VEGAS – After years of legislative inaction, schools in several states are starting the year with new laws to guard against an epidemic of educators sexually abusing students.

The changes are spurred in part by a federal directive that forces states to address major contributing factors, including secret union deals that allow educators accused of abusing students to resign with a letter of recommendation.

So far in 2017, lawmakers in Texas and Nevada approved legislation to address the issue, and bills are currently under review in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

The momentum for change reflects the public’s growing disdain for the constant barrage of accused educators making news for sex with students, and it’s pressuring union officials to rethink their stance on educator sexual misconduct.

‘Passing the Trash’

In 2013, Pennsylvania lawmakers were among the first to ban the practice known in the education world as “passing the trash” by outlawing secret union agreements that have allowed educators accused of sex acts with students to resign in exchange for a letter of recommendation.

The secret union deals have led to countless pedophile educators moving on to new schools, only to face similar accusations until they’re eventually charged with a crime.

Officials with the Pennsylvania State Teachers Association initially lobbied against the bill but eventually shifted to neutral when lawmakers amended the legislation to allow school officials to erase accusations of sexual misconduct with students from teachers personnel files if they’re found to be untrue.

The shift marked one of the first times teachers unions have not opposed legislation to protect students from sexually predatory teachers, though national union officials have continued their opposition.

In testifying on federal legislation in 2013 to ban the “passing the trash” deals, National Education Association officials complained that increasing background checks “often have a huge, racially disparate impact” on black teachers, for example.

Union officials in states like New York, California and others also continued to oppose better employment screening for teachers.

A new directive

Despite the resistance from politically powerful teacher unions, federal lawmakers included provisions in the 2015 Elementary and Secondary Education Act to outlaw “passing the trash” deals – the same legislation the unions killed in 2013. The nonprofit group Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME) is now pushing lawmakers in several states to embrace the federal mandate with state legislation to criminalize the secret union arrangements.

“That’s what the federal law says they must do,” SESAME founder Terri Miller told EAGnews. “We’re working to make sure states know they have that mandate hanging over their head.”

The effort is already proving successful with Texas and Nevada approving legislation this year.

In Texas, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s Senate Bill 7 passed both the House and Senate unanimously in May without the explicit endorsement of the state’s teachers union.

The legislation expanded the Texas Education Agency’s authority to investigate passing the trash deals, expanded suspected abuse reporting requirements to include school principals, and banned anyone who receives deferred adjudication in an educator sexual misconduct case from ever teaching again in the Lone Star State.

Bettencourt cited data from the TEA, the state education department’s investigative unit, that shows the agency took in 449 reports of inappropriate educator-student relationships over the last two years, a drastic increase over previous years. Many of those cases involved union-negotiated passing the trash deals, he said, and “the entire law is based on stopping that.”

The bill received support from lawmakers of both parties, as well as law enforcement officials, school administrators, private school leaders, parents and others. The Texas American Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, testified “on” but not “for” the legislation.

“I think the unions here had to recognize the obvious, because the train was leaving the station,” Bettencourt said. “The public is just sick of it.”

“We’ve raised the bar here substantially, because you just can’t tolerate this,” he said.

It was a similar situation in Nevada, where lawmakers this summer enacted some of the toughest laws in the nation to protect students from educator sexual abuse.

SESAME, based in Las Vegas, played a key role in shaping the legislation in Pennsylvania and Nevada, where officials discovered that the union influences driving the sex abuse epidemic are written into the union employment contract.

“That exposed the teachers union’s culpability to these types of crimes,” Miller said.

The union contract for the Clark County School District, for example, specifically stated that if criminal prosecution of educators accused of sexually abusing students is unsuccessful, school officials must scrub all references of the allegations from the employee’s file.

“Nevada law now bans that,” Miller said.

The Nevada legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jill Tolles and Sen. Heidi Gansert, also specifically bans passing the trash deals, increases mandatory reporting requirements for suspected abuse, tasks schools with fully vetting applicants’ employment histories, and frees previous employers to fully discuss accusations or investigations into sexual abuse with students, regardless of previous agreements to keep it quiet.

“It opens up transparent communication administrator to administrator and that’s how we’re going to get (pedophile educators) out of the classroom and keep them out of the classroom,” Miller said.

The Nevada bill was based in part on the Pennsylvania bill adopted in 2013, but incorporates new elements to address nuances with the educator sexual misconduct problem that has since become SESAME’s model legislation, she said.

State lawmakers unanimously approved the bill in June, and it took effect July 1.

The Clark County Education Association, the union representing Las Vegas teachers, also supported the bill following testimony from officials in the Clark County School District and other education leaders about the “epidemic” of Nevada teachers abusing students.

A total of 32 Clark County educators were arrested for sex with students over the last three years, despite the fact that up to 85 percent of molestations by educators go unreported, according to the Nevada Justice Association.

“We support A.B. 362, especially with its intent to protect the children,” CCEA’s Ed Gonzalez testified. “The vast majority of teachers and education professionals are doing a great job, but we need to protect children against the few who are not.”

Moving forward

Proposed bills to ban passing the trash in Massachusetts and New Jersey are also making headway, despite the seeming reluctance of union officials in those states to embrace the move.

Several law enforcement officials, mothers of students sexually abused by teachers and others testified in support of state Sen. Joan Lovely’s Senate Bill 295 in a committee hearing in July, but members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association have remained silent about the legislation.

Much like the Nevada legislation, SB 295 would outlaw passing the trash deals and require school employee applicants to disclose whether they’ve ever faced an investigation for sexual abuse or misconduct with students during the hiring process. The measure expands those required to report suspected abuse to include coaches and school volunteers, as well.

The bill would also outlaw sexual relationships between teachers and students between the ages of 16 and 19, as state law does not currently prohibit relationships with those who meet the age of consent for sex.

Jetta Bernier, executive director of Mass Kids, said that after years of failed efforts to address the educator sexual abuse of students, “we’re pretty excited about the possibility (SB 295) is going to pass” the state legislature.

“We have not had any opposition to any of this,” Bernier said of the legislation, though she noted that “we have purposefully not gone out to teachers unions to have a conversation with them to do this.”

Instead, Mass Kids and others backing the bill have focused on building public support and highlighting the problem.

“We wanted to build up momentum with superintendents and school officials,” Bernier said. “In the fall, Sen. Joan Lovely will be reaching out more earnestly to the Massachusetts Teachers Association.”

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for them to build the case for why teachers should be able to abuse students in schools,” she said.

New Jersey lawmakers are considering similar legislation, and like Massachusetts, the influence of the state’s teachers union on the legislative process remains to be seen.

‘What is the position of the NEA and AFT?’

In the meantime, Massachusetts Citizens for Children – MassKids’ parent organization – is partnering with The National Center for Victims of Crime to host a national conference in Boston focused on best practices and strategies for cracking down on educator sexual misconduct with students.

Thus far, neither the National Education Association nor the American Federation of Teachers have expressed any interest in participating in the October 20 event, Bernier said.

The conference will feature presentations, theatrical vignettes, case studies, and real time audience surveys for state education leaders, superintendents, principals, and child sex abuse advocates to apply at home.

The conference will also seek to answer questions surrounding training school employees to reduce sex abuse in schools, as well as mandated reporting laws for school employees and others.

But SESAME’s Terri Miller contends that perhaps the biggest looming questions – those that will steer the conversation about educator sexual misconduct into the future – will depend on how the NEA and AFT ultimately respond, or not, to those calling for change.

“The unions talk to each other, and they’re all affiliated with the national unions,” she said. “This is what the federal law says: You can’t aid and abed (pedophile teachers) in schools. What is the position of the NEA and AFT?”

“Are you going to make sure your … trickle down effect will ensure (union contract clauses protecting pedophile teachers) don’t get into collective bargaining agreements?” she questioned.

“What are you going to do to protect students?”

EAGnews submitted requests for comment about those questions to both the NEA and AFT several weeks ago.

Neither union bothered to respond.

Source: NEA, AFT remain silent as states move to ban secret union deals that protect pedophile school employees | EAGnews.org

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