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Teacher Background Bill Passes Committee

Legislation requiring stricter background checks for school employees has passed the  Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee.

Under Senate Bill 46 applicants for teaching positions and other jobs that have direct contact with students must provide schools with information about past sexual misconduct investigations, discipline as a result of those investigations, and whether their teaching license has been suspended or revoked.

The prospective school must then contact the applicant's past employer to verify if they're being truthful.

State Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia and Delaware) said his legislation will prevent schools from “passing the trash,” which occurs when a school district gives a teacher accused of sexual misconduct incentives for resigning such as health benefits, letters of recommendation, and confidentiality agreements.

Williams said, under the current system, a school system doesn’t have access to information about investigations of a teacher unless they were charged with a crime.

He said not many incidents make their way into the justice system because of the distress a trial would cause.

“Parents as well as the victims can sometimes be affected by the fact that they have to come out in public and reveal what happened to them, and so there’s a reluctance to do that.”

Williams originally introduced the bill in February 2012, but said the committee took a long time to review it  to make sure due process and innocent educators were being protected.

“We took a cautious approach, built stakeholders, and talked to everyone that represents people, or works with people, or works within those systems to ensure then that we would create a fair, balanced, but proactive process.”

Williams said he expects his bill to be voted on when the Senate reconvenes  Monday, and thinks it will move on to the House soon.