Two bills are working their way through the Minnesota House of Representatives that would limit student-teacher relationships and prohibit teachers with criminal backgrounds from obtaining state-teaching licensure. The bills were heard last week by the House Education Innovation Policy Committee.
HF2795, sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, would make it illegal for teachers to have consensual sex with 18-year-old students by better defining misconduct and codifying the code of ethics into law, Session Daily reported.
“Unfortunately, we do have a few rare instances that cause concern,” Loon said. “We’ve heard a few of those instances in the news and they are always of concern to parents and obviously to legislators. We are responsible for making sure that we are only putting people who we would want in front of our own children in the classroom.”
That bill was approved and sent to the House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee. There is no Senate companion bill.
Another bill, HF2777, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, would keep more people with criminal pasts from getting a teaching license. It would expand the list of crimes that result in automatic denial or revocation of a license to include convictions of domestic assault or abuse, embezzlement of public funds, or a felony or gross misdemeanor involving a minor.
That bill was laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The Senate companion bill, SF2748, sponsored by Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, is awaiting action by the Senate E-12 Policy Committee.
“We’ve had instances of people being fired as school bus drivers, where there were stay of adjudications for sexual contact with children in the past,” Loon said. “Those types of legal processes do not show up in the criminal background check and I think it’s important that that information be provided so it can be known.”
Committee member Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, said it’s an unfunded mandate unless the legislature provides funding for it.
“I’m just concerned about the flow of money and who’s actually going to end up paying for this,” she said.
Gary Amoroso, executive director of Minnesota Association of School Administrators, showed support of the bills but said periodic background checks are also a concern for school administrators.
“That could create a challenge for districts,” he said. “We heard from our colleagues in Anoka yesterday that it could be up to $75,000 a year.”
An attorney for Education Minnesota, Meg Luger-Nikolai, said although the union has no issues with the inclusion of sexual conduct offenses, there are other concerns such as the expanded list of offenses that result in automatic denial or revocation of licensure, Session Daily reported. She works with teachers who have encountered licensing issues and regularly sees those who have mishandled small amounts of activity funds.
“Under this statute, now we’re treating things with a shovel instead of a scalpel in terms of the precision with which we look at problems,” she said. “When you make something an automatic revocation offense, there is really no room for the board to determine how serious the issue was and additionally, whether or not the individual can redeem him or herself.”
Loon said teachers should be held to a higher standard and it’s ultimately an issue of ensuring student safety.
“We want to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to reassure parents, that their children are safe and they are in good hands when they send them off to school and I think this bill helps accomplish that.”