New Massachusetts Bill Would Tighten Sexual Misconduct Laws for Teachers

By Michael Klazema on 6/17/2017
A new bill recently filed in the Massachusetts legislature could fortify the state’s laws against sexual misconduct in schools. Per a report from New England Cable News, Massachusetts has some of the laxest laws in the nation concerning student-teacher relationships. The new bill, proposed by State Senator Joan Lovely, is allegedly aimed at closing loopholes and bringing the state’s laws into step with other parts of the country.

Per the New England Cable News report, it is currently technically legal in Massachusetts for teachers to engage in sexual relations with their students. So long as the student is over the age of 16 and consents to the sexual relationship, there is nothing law enforcement can do. If the relationship involves sexual touching but not actual sexual intercourse, the age of consent for the student is lower: just 14 years old.

Lovely’s new bill would change those rules of consent, which critics say are giving sexual predators a free pass to pursue relationships with young, impressionable students. The bill is multifaceted, including language that would tighten laws about teacher misconduct and put more responsibility on the schools, supporters claim.

As coverage notes, the law would make it outright illegal for any teacher or educator to engage in sexual relations with students under the age of 19. Educators would also be barred from sexually touching any student under the age of 14 “unless there is an age difference of three years or less.”

Schools would be required to ramp up their teacher background checks, reports explain, implement training requirements to help teachers recognize sexual abuse, and develop educational strategies to teach students about the kinds of student-teacher relationships that are not appropriate.

Also, schools would be required to report abuse allegations to the state. The bill would implement fines of up to $10,000 per offense for situations where schools fail to report abuse, coverage indicates. As an extension of this rule, the bill bans confidentiality agreements between teachers and schools regarding sexual misconduct.

Reports claim that schools will sometimes sign agreements with accused teachers that allow the teachers to resign quietly in return for the school’s silence. This tactic—called “passing the trash” by critics—allows the school to avoid a scandal and gives the teacher a chance to “start over” at a new school district.

To help the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education investigate allegations of sexual misconduct, coverage notes, Lovely’s bill would give the department subpoena power. By being able to issue subpoenas, the department would have more power in calling witnesses and compelling schools and other sources to release key documents.

The Joint Committee on Education will review the new legislation to determine which steps to take next.


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