New law will better protect students from predators
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Senate Bill 155, a major OSBA legislative priority, made sweeping changes to the rules and processes around allegations of sexual conduct by school employees toward students. Most of the bill comes into effect Jan. 1, 2020, and the rest by July 1, 2020.
The law broadens the definition of “sexual conduct” to prohibit more behaviors. The bill defines sexual conduct as:
(a) Sexual advances or requests for sexual favors directed toward the student; or
(b) Of a sexual nature that are directed toward the student or that have the effect of unreasonably interfering with the student’s educational performance, or of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive educational environment.
Prior to this change, the “sexual conduct” legal standard had four parts and was almost impossible to meet.
The bill also changes the definition of “student” to include any person receiving educational services from early learning to age 21. The definition of “student” also includes any person who was previously known as a student by the person engaging in sexual conduct and who left school or graduated from high school within 90 days prior to the sexual conduct. The goal was to make sure students are free from any sort of grooming behavior or unwanted sexual attention from an adult in a school setting. The 90-day portion of the law is intended to make sure that there is a definitive break from a young person being considered a student.
The bill broadens what conduct is prohibited and includes anyone who might have unsupervised conduct with students. Now any allegations of verbal or physical sexual conduct or verbal, written or electronic sexual communications by a school employee, a contractor, an agent or a volunteer must be investigated.
The bill changes reporting requirements for schools and agencies and requires schools to have all allegations be reported to a licensed administrator. Employees must report all incidents of potential sexual conduct to the designated licensed administrator and must report all incidents of suspected child abuse to the Oregon Department of Human Services or law enforcement and the designated licensed administrator.
The law requires agencies, including the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the Department of Human Services, and the Oregon Department of Education, to coordinate and investigate all allegations. The law requires investigations to be concluded within 90 days of the allegation, with possible exceptions for good cause. Letting these allegations drag out can be damaging to students and the school community.
The bill requires schools to complete sexual conduct investigations and requires schools to suspend employees with pay during the investigation. Agreements to negotiate a resignation in exchange for stopping an investigation are prohibited.
OSBA lobbied hard for these changes and others in the bill during the 2019 session. A few recent, high-profile incidents in school districts made this bill politically viable in 2019, a decade after bruising political fights highjacked the debate. This time education stakeholders worked together to push the bill into law.
The effectiveness of the bill will be amplified by another recently passed bill. SB 415 makes school board members and charter board members mandatory reporters of child abuse.
Although SB 155 will affect only a small percentage of school employees, it gives school districts better tools for addressing predatory behavior.