Bill to help schools protect students nears the finish line
Monday, June 17, 2019
An OSBA priority bill to protect students is on the move as the legislative session winds down.
Senate Bill 155is headed to the Senate floor after passing out of the Joint Ways and Means Committee on Friday. The bill deals with sexual misconduct by school employees toward students and was motivated in part by recent allegations around Mitch Whitehurst, a former Portland Public Schools educator.
"As school board members,” said Portland Public Schools Board Chair Rita Moore, “our most important responsibility is to ensure all our students receive an excellent education in schools that are safe and nurturing, which is why we’re pleased the Legislature chose to improve protections for Oregon’s students this legislative session.”
The bill aims to fix the way that schools can address conduct that does not rise to the level of sexual abuse but is inappropriate and involves something sexual. It would create a tiered structure for reporting suspected abuse or inappropriate conduct. First reports would be reviewed by law enforcement to determine if there was criminal activity. Next the Department of Human Services would review for potential abuse. If no abuse or criminal activity occurred, then the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission or the Oregon Department of Education would review the conduct for potential licensure and employment violations. Finally, school districts would maintain the right to take appropriate employment actions according to bargained processes.
The bill would substantially increase the work for agencies, and the Legislature has allocated more than $5 million accordingly.
The legislation's supporters include OSBA, the Oregon Education Association, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, and the Oregon School Employees Association, as well as several school districts. These groups have worked for more than a year to get the bill right.
The stakes are high.
“We need to do everything we can to keep kids safe in school and everywhere else they go,” said OEA President John Larson. “SB 155 strikes a balance between preserving due process rights for employees and ensuring we have the tools needed to protect students.”