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Another View: Politics as usual blocks teacher misconduct reform

Another View
By: Beth Gaines
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Every day, parents entrust to our local schools their most precious possessions – their children. Schools have a sacred responsibility to educate students in a safe learning environment. Sadly, there have been too many recent cases of the unthinkable –teachers sexually abusing their own students, often in the classroom. In a recent case that garnered national headlines, parents at one Los Angeles elementary school were shocked to learn of the arrest of two long-time teachers. One teacher was charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct against students between the ages of 7 and 10. Roseville was rocked a few years ago when a middle school teacher was arrested for engaging in an illicit sexual relationship with a 16 year-old student. But school districts are often hindered when trying to obtain the evidence and conduct the proceedings needed to get sexual predators out of our schools. Right now, provisions in many teacher union contracts mandate that allegations of misconduct that don’t result in disciplinary action must be removed from personnel files after four years. Sacramento has such a provision in their teacher union contract. Without this information, districts may not be able to immediately flag a predator when new allegations surface. Even when a district has enough evidence to seek a dismissal, they are forced to engage in a very lengthy and expensive process. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office estimates that the average teacher dismissal process costs school districts $300,000 per case. Worse, teachers receive full pay for non-classroom work while these cases are proceeding. The time and expense can lead districts to forgo pursuing charges altogether. Meanwhile, students stand at risk of becoming a predator’s next victim. Our children deserve better. It is unconscionable that inadequate laws and union contracts tie the hands of school districts from acting to protect their students. That’s why I have co-authored legislation, Assembly Bill 2028, to strengthen California’s teacher misconduct laws and make it easier for local districts to permanently dismiss classroom predators. Assembly Bill 2028 was bipartisan legislation that contained legislative changes sought by the Los Angeles Unified School District and Mayor Villaraigosa. It would have eliminated the four-year limitation of the use of evidence of prior allegations and also would have allowed the teacher dismissal process to begin during summer months. Unfortunately, a few in the majority party and the California teacher union have blocked teacher misconduct reform. A recent report on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” program highlighted how the majority party on the Assembly Education Committee killed a bipartisan reform proposal by Democrat Senator Alex Padilla to make it easier to remove classroom predators. Four Democrats on the committee killed the measure by simply refusing to vote. I was proud to join my Assembly Republican colleagues recently in voting to try and revive Senator Padilla’s measure on the Assembly Floor. Once again, majority Democrats blocked a common-sense reform measure authored by a member of their own party. As the mother of six children, it is reprehensible to me that the majority in the Legislature and union bosses would fight so hard against vital reforms to remove predators from the classroom. Protecting our kids should not be a partisan issue. Despite this setback, I will continue to fight hard with my like-minded colleagues on both sides of the issue to reform our teacher misconduct laws and ensure that no child becomes a victim of abuse while at school. Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, represents the 4th Assembly District in the California Legislature.