Senate bills would crack down on teacher sexual misconduct

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Five new Senate bills introduced by the Senate Education Committee aimed at teacher misconduct with students.

However, a teachers' union in Memphis said the bills have gone too far, criminalizing the teaching profession.

"They continue to pounce on teachers for the failures in this society," said Keith Williams, executive director of Memphis-Shelby County Education Association. "But you should not enact legislation specifically targeted to and naming teachers."

A report from the Tennessee Comptroller last month revealed deficiencies in hiring practices for school personnel that could allow predators to slip through the cracks.

The bills were introduced to fill in the holes in Tennessee's law.

"We have to do everything possible to protect our students in Tennessee and that's what we are hoping to do this year by passing as many as five different pieces of legislation," District 31 Senator Brian Kelsey said.

"What are you going to do to help children?" Williams said. "What are the laws that you are going to enact to support and change the culture of these children in these schools?"

The five Senate bills would strengthen teacher background checks, end non-disclosure agreements that prevented other school districts from knowing about sexual misconduct, update the state's Teacher Code of Ethics regarding inappropriate teacher-student relationships, allow the State Board of Education to punish school directors for not reporting misconduct, and post all final teacher disciplinary action online.

Williams said lawmakers' focus should be on increasing teacher pay and giving them more support.

The education committee is also asking for an additional staff attorney in the State Board of Education to review educator misconduct investigations and outstanding cases.

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