JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING THE DISCLOSURE OF CERTAIN EDUCATION PERSONNEL RECORDS.
Joint Favorable Substitute
SPONSORS OF BILL:
Rep. Caroline Simmons, 144th Dist.
REASONS FOR BILL:
Educators who have committed abuse or sexual misconduct with students or colleagues are having their certifications revoked, given suspensions, or the option to resign. Also, when they move on to another district, they have not been notifying the districts of any past sexual misconduct so the boards of education are unknowingly hiring sexual predators. For example: a Stamford teacher was accused three times of sexually inappropriate behavior left the district with a separation agreement. He was also given a glowing letter of recommendation.
● All language relating to submitting criminal record when an offer for employment has been made. Also, it is now necessary that employers do a background check on potential employees when they are being considered, far prior to when an offer has actually been made.
● Change made that the allegations have to be unsubstantiated rather than false.
● Change made to specify that particular investigations are to be done by the Department of Children and Families
● Change made to say that an applicant must submit a written statement of a substantiated allegation of sexual misconduct, not necessarily a finding.
● Specifies the way in which information should be filed with the board and what information should be included.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities: Supports the bill. The bill seeks to provide greater protection to the public school children against physical and sexual abuse. Currently, the bill allows background checks to be ordered prior to an offer of employment, but the commission suggests that this be altered to require a background check after an offer of employment has been made. They also suggest that the language “whether the department has received notification of criminal charges pending against the applicant and any information concerning such charges” should be narrowed to disclosure solely of charges related to abuse or sexual assault.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony H. Williams, 8th District: Supports the bill. Half of the notifications of educator disciplinary actions in 2010 in PA were related to sexual misconduct, and only 10 of those resulted in suspensions, 16 had certification revoked, and 25 were given the option to surrender their certificate in lieu of facing discipline. Moved to tears by testimony of parents related to these incidents. Found incidents where “hush packages were offered,” including letters of recommendation and other benefits to avoid costly litigation. PA now has similar legislation to this bill.
Michael Rinaldi: Supports the bill. As a 29-year educator in Stamford, discovered that a Stamford High School teacher, three times accused of sexually inappropriate behavior left the district by way of a separation agreement that, inexplicably, included a glowing letter of recommendation. Spoke out against this at Board of Education meetings. Passing this would make it illegal to “Pass the trash” to other districts or states. With passage of Every Student Succeeds Act it is now mandated that each state pass legislation to prevent separation agreements with predatory educators. He says that Connecticut has the opportunity to lead in this legislation.
David Martin, Mayor of Stamford: Supports the bill. Wants to know that students are safe and teachers and administrators in Stamford have no background of abuse or misconduct allegations/investigations, and says that no responsible municipality wants to “pass the trash.” He says that one challenge is that when one asks for records for a new hire, one might not get this type of information. This is a good solution to start with.
City of Stamford, James A. Connelly, Interim Superintendent of Schools: Supports the bill. He worked in two school districts that were victimized by hiring predators whose references failed to disclose conduct of sexual nature with students. This bill prevents these unethical practices. Stamford BOE is enacting a policy that addresses this issue, and will be the first CT school district to do so.
Stamford Board of Education, Geoff Alswanger, President: Supports the bill. Said that a damaging episode of improper sexual behavior by an employee in his schools is extremely disruptive and long-lasting and incalculable harm to the student involved. He is working to improve his district's process when hiring to avoid accidentally and unknowingly hiring sexual predators.
ConnCAN, Jennifer Alexander, CEO: Supports the bill. This bill would change current law, which requires an applicant to inform a local board of criminal activity within 30 days of the offer of employment, to require the applicant to inform prior to employment.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
AFT Connecticut, Jan Hochadel, President: Says the bill is overreaching and leaves unanswered questions and it appears to assume that school employees are guilty. Bill should specify about who can determine if the allegations against educators are true or false, is it the former employer or DCF? There are not any specifications for a course of action if a teacher resigns prior to a finding. Bill prohibits BOE from entering into agreement allowing for records to be removed or undisclosed, which limits negotiation possibilities for all parties and could result in “flood of teacher termination hearings.” She says the definitions of “abuse” and “sexual misconduct” are too broad. Also, bill does not apply to charter schools.
Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association: Supports/Neutral on substantive parts of the bill and opposes subsection 2 that creates immunity from civil liability for certain employers. Amendment: They say that employers dealing with this sensitive information should not be protected if their negligence leads to harm others. As it is currently, employers not knowingly supplying false information have immunity, so the less they know, the more immunity they have.
Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Inc.: Acknowledges that the bill has good intentions, but concerned that the timelines provided in the bill will make it hard for boards of education to make offers of employment in a timely manner. Also, they say that some of the language in section 2 is not clear, Amendment: “there are references to a prohibition on a board of education offering employment to an applicant, as well as language enabling a board of education to “employ or contract with an applicant on a temporary basis” for a period not to exceed 90 days. The language with respect to substitute teachers provides that such individuals remain on the substitute teacher list as long as they are “continuously employed”. They urge that the provisions in this bill be streamlined so the BOE can have information regarding sexual misconduct, without impeding the hiring process.
Connecticut Education Association, Melanie I. Kolek, Legal Counsel: Summarized the bill in a more cohesive manner. Recommends revisions to account for the possibility that an applicant may negligently omit required information, and that an applicant who has been criminally convicted shall not be offered employment by any board of education.
Reported by: David Friedlander