Bill aimed to protect students from teacher misconduct

Friday , July 31, 2015 - 6:22 AM1 comment

Standard-Examiner correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – Lawmakers passed a bill during the 2015 legislative session to protect students against educators with previous sexual offenses.

House Bill 345 lists offenses that could bar the State Board of Education from issuing or reissuing and educator license. The majority of offenses listed ban teachers with convictions that are of a “sexual nature.”

Bill sponsor Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, explained the significance of the legislation. “You would think that much of this would be a no-brainer, but the need to spell it out became an important policy separation,” McCay said.

McCay felt the bill accomplished two significant changes. First it returned a balance to the state school board. “The crux of the bill is who holds the power to license,” he said.

He felt the unelected body of the Utah Professional Practice Advisor Committee (UPPAC) held too much “autonomous” power in the decision-making process, “with no consideration of the board.” The bill gives licensing power back to the board of education.

Second, the bill established a “basic common denominator.” McCay believes teachers, principals, and school districts are motivated by students’ interest. “I have seen sexual abuse occur in people’s lives, just watching the impact is shocking,” McCay said. He sees the bill as a way to ensure the teachers who do not meet the basic common denominator are not allowed back in the classroom.

Students who had experienced abuse also testified in favor of the bill. McCay explained some of the children testified because the teachers who abused them were already back in the classroom. “This was happening unfortunately,” McCay said.

Chris Williams, media relations manager with Davis School District, could not directly comment on the bill. He stated it too obviously related to the recent and ongoing case of Brianne Altice, who was convicted of sexually abusing three teenage students. Altice will first have a chance at parole in 2017.

“Every time a sexual abuse case is mentioned in the news, it hurts every teacher,” McCay said. He hopes the new legislation can help restore some faith in the teacher profession. He feels one of the most significant results is that parents can feel their children are safe in the classroom.

McCay cautioned against parents who mistakenly think a bill can solve everything. “Parents need to be constantly vigilant,” McCay said. “(Look) for indicators of abuse. It’s important for parents to recognize them.”

He promised that no bill will create 100 percent safety. Situations where teacher student relationships break down will likely always occur. McCay also advised parents to “consult with teachers, especially those they know and trust.”

Teachers and students praised the bill according to McCay. “It has been amazing the positive feedback from both parents and educators,” McCay said speaking of the new law.

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