Background checks grabbed national headlines this week, as Wall Street Journal columnist Campbell Brown revealed numerous instances where teachers unions had sought to weaken a new bill that would fight to keep sex offenders and other dangerous criminals out of schoolrooms across the country.
The bill in question, called the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act, received unanimous bipartisan support in the House of Representatives in the fall. A companion piece of legislation is currently making its way through the Senate, with Pennsylvania republican senator Pat Toomey standing strong behind it and guiding it hopefully toward another rousing vote of approval. Together, the House and the Senate would build a new standardized system to keep sex offenders, violent criminals, and other threatening presences far away from the school classrooms where they could do students harm.
However, while it’s difficult to argue against legislation that would keep children and teenagers safe from unsavory educators, two major teacher’s unions have expressed surprising disapproval of the legislation. The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have both complained about the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act, citing everything from inaccuracies in criminal databases to the “racially disparate impact” of background check procedures. The AFT even worried about the new legislation causing inconvenience for teachers by forcing them to wait for background approval before being allowed to teach.
Indeed, the Protecting Students legislation would tighten up and standardize educator background checks around the nation, requiring particularly vigilant checks of the FBI fingerprint database and of sex offender registries at both the state and national level. Any employee or applicant found with charges for violent or sexual abuse against children would be automatically be banned from school employment across the board. The bill also includes a provision that would harshly punish schools for firing known sex offenders and allowing them – or even helping them – to secure educational employment elsewhere. In other words, it’s a big accountability measure that would seek to eliminate any and all chances of child abuse or molestation taking place in school.
However, teachers unions didn't appear ready to accept accountability for criminals among their ranks. In fact, some organizations seemed more concerned with protecting their union members than they did with protecting children from heinous, life-altering abuses. According to Campbell Brown’s Wall Street Journal column, several teachers unions have recently gone to bat for teachers who were denied severance pay after being charged with sex offenses and sentenced to jail time. Brown’s column also referenced a 2010 Government Accountability Office study, which estimated that there were still hundreds of registered sex offenders working in schools across the country. The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators act could help to correct those oversights, but it will have a considerably harder time doing so if teachers unions challenge it at every turn.