Bills offer contrasting approaches to keeping students safe
Monday, February 1, 2021
Legislative committees will begin consideration of bills in earnest this week, scheduling hearings on legislation with technical fixes and agency priorities. Bigger issues are looming, though, and will likely receive consideration later in the session.
Sexual conduct by school employees toward students has been a major legislative topic in recent years. OSBA work on the topic, in conjunction with other stakeholders, culminated in the passage of Senate Bill 155 in 2019. That bill changed existing statutes to protect students from sexual behavior by school employees.
Since the inception of that bill, school districts, the Oregon Department of Education and other stakeholders have identified the need to make technical fixes to SB 155, such as making sure various state agencies can legally share information necessary in claims of employee sexual conduct.
The Senate Education Committee has drafted SB 242 in consultation with OSBA and other stakeholders that originally pushed for SB 155. The bill is long and technical and will likely need to have amendments drafted in conjunction with any public hearings, but it continues the work of SB 155. This targeted approach gives school districts tools necessary to protect students and gives agencies the ability to track and investigate allegations of sexual conduct, all while maintaining due process rights for employees.
SB 409 stands in stark contrast. This bill about sexual conduct in schools would take a broader approach that could have unintended consequences for school districts. The bill, proposed by Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, would do a number of things, most notably extending certain sexual conduct monitoring responsibilities from the current staff-student level down to the level of student-to-student interaction. The bill would also expand reporting and create a civil action if there is a failure to report.
This would greatly expand staff members’ duty to monitor student-to-student behavior. SB 155 is based upon the responsibility school districts have to employ staff who will keep students safe. SB 409 would require school districts to monitor student-to-student interaction and then report it to state agencies. Failure to do so could leave the district or staff person liable for damages.
There is every reason to believe Prozanski, who has drafted similar bills in prior sessions, wants to tackle the challenge of protecting students honestly and sincerely, but the introduced version of SB 409 raises a number of significant concerns for school districts. As with SB 155, legislators and stakeholders working collaboratively can hopefully achieve more workable legislation that maintains the goal of keeping students safe.