Every so often, stories pop up about school employees committing acts of sexual misconduct against students.
Too frequently, state lawmakers say, the cases involve someone who faced similar allegations in past jobs, yet was allowed to resign rather than face a formal firing and possible charges.
That’s got to end, insists state Rep. Wyman Duggan, a Jacksonville Republican.
For the second straight year, Duggan has proposed legislation (HB 883) that would create a list of school employees — including support staff — who have been denied certification, disqualified from owning a private school that receives state scholarship or voucher money, fired or resigned from a school because of sexual misconduct with a student, or otherwise disqualified from employment at a school.
All schools — district, charter and private — would be required to report such personnel to the state. And they would be prohibited from hiring individuals who appear on that list.
“What we’re really trying to get at here, most importantly, is the bad actor who resigns in lieu of termination and leaves,” Duggan said during discussion of his bill at the House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee.
They might not face the legal system and might never be reported. Then they can show up in other schools that might never be aware of the concerns.
“This is designed to fill the gap,” Duggan said.
It would apply equally to district, charter and private schools that participate in state scholarship and voucher programs. The House unanimously passed a similar bill in 2019, but it died in the Senate.
Committee chairman Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican, praised Duggan for revisiting the proposal.
“Our committee is particularly focused on protecting the safety and well-being of our students,” Massullo said. He mentioned another measure advanced in December to reduce student-athlete heatstroke during training and games. “Today we have an opportunity to protect our students from sexual predators.”
Subcommittee member Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport, sought assurances that an employee who is wrongly placed on the list can get off, raising due process concerns. After hearing explanations that being placed on the list would require a “legally sufficient” complaint, and that mechanisms existed to remove names, Webb offered her support, calling it a “good” and “very important” bill.
If the Legislature places preschool programs under the Department of Education, as has been proposed, childcare providers should be subject to the list, as well, Webb added.
Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, asked whether the state’s current background check system could suffice to get the needed information.
Duggan didn’t think so.
“I don’t think it’s picking it up now, because it’s a persistent problem,” Duggan said.
He told the panel that he put forward the idea after meeting a parent on the campaign trail, who told him about her son being molested by a teacher who it was later learned faced similar accusations at a previous school job. If nothing else, he urged his colleagues, “Do it for her.”
The subcommittee approved the bill unanimously. It has two more committee stops before it could be heard on the floor.
The Senate has a similar bill (SB 534) that has made it through the first of three committees of reference.