Saying their goal is to protect Oklahoma students from child abusers who move from district to district, two state lawmakers say they plan address the issue this coming legislative session.
Senator Kathleen Wilcoxson and Representative Carolyn Coleman said the problem is that many school districts don't know a prospective employee has a history of child abuse or inappropriate sexual conduct. That's because their former employer may have been advised to simply accept their resignation in exchange for keeping quiet about inappropriate behavior.
"It's a nationwide problem known as 'passing the trash' that allows child abusers to move from district to district. But whether it is fear of lawsuits or not knowing how to handle these situations, the bottom line is kids are being hurt when it could have been prevented," said Senator Wilcoxson, R-Oklahoma City.
Representative Coleman noted states like California and Michigan already have laws on the books aimed at preventing school districts or prospective employees from covering up past crimes involving students.
"I realize some districts worry they could get sued if they disclose this information. But I would caution them to look at what's been happening in the Catholic Church. Diocese after diocese that kept silent while pedophile priests moved from church to church are now facing hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits," said Coleman, R-Moore.
Both lawmakers offered bills in the 2002 legislative session dealing with greater disclosure by former employers and the employee, but neither measure succeeded.
"There were concerns by professional associations about former employers passing along unproven, inaccurate or simply untrue information that could prevent a teacher or others from obtaining work in a school district. That's a concern we want to address with the legislation we're working on," said Representative Coleman.
The legislators said they would welcome input from teachers, administrators and others concerned about the problem in order to make the bill as strong as possible.
"I know that our school districts and teachers want the safest educational environment possible for our children. But that can't happen if school-house predators are given the protection of secrecy," said Wilcoxson.