In 2016, USA Today gave NC an “F” in teacher background checks and screening for problem teachers.
Hands were wrung.
Pearls were clutched.
Vows were made to protect our kids.
Yet the North Carolina General Assembly ended their session last week with the original teacher background bill still stuck in committee.
North Carolina House Bill 117, Protect Students in Schools, was filed in February of this year and passed the first reading in the House.
Meanwhile, teacher arrests continue despite school and the General Assembly ending their current terms.
Teacher Background Check Bill Needed Improvement
While legislators passed a flurry of bills at the end of the session, the original teacher background bill was left to die in the Finance committee. That might be a good thing, but portions of the bill were apparently moved into a separate senate bill.
Warren indicated that he wasn’t sure why the bill had not cleared the finance committee and to check with those who head up that committee.
Warren also indicated the bill was not subject to cross-over and may still be taken up when the General Assembly is returns for their next session.
Horn told American Lens that certain provisions from House Bill 117 were moved into Senate Bill 599.
“As previously referenced, the General Assembly did indeed incorporate several of the provisions of H117 in the final version of Senate Bill 599 that was passed out of the Senate, concurred by the Senate and now awaits the governor’s signature,” wrote Rep. Horn.
Horn said the provisions from HB 117 in the final SB 599 bill are as follows:
- Requiring traditional, charter, and regional schools that have policies providing for periodic checks of criminal history of employees to indicate, upon inquiry by any other local board of education, charter school, or regional school in the State as to the reason for an employee’s resignation or dismissal, if an employee’s criminal history was relevant to the employee’s resignation or dismissal.
- Allowing a teacher who is incarcerated to be suspended without pay by letter, rather than after a face to face meeting.
- Requiring, if a teacher’s criminal history is relevant to the teacher’s resignation, the local board to report to the State Board of Education the reason for an employee’s resignation, even if the teacher has given 30 days’ notice.
The HB 117 requirement that all districts conduct a criminal background check on all of their employees was not carried over.
As discussed in our three-part series, A Quiet Epidemic, House Bill 117 was weak in a variety of ways. As our series demonstrated, a major weakness is the exclusion of Child Protective Service orders as part of the background check process.
The bill did include a requirement of a 30 day notice for resignations and that seems to have made it into SB 599.
However helpful this 30 day requirement might be, it’s useless if an internal, state-wide reporting structure is not put into place. Reporting to the State Board of Education is useful, but arguably the Department of Public Instruction should be in that loop as well.
Such a reporting structure might keep teachers from simply being hired into a different district or school, which was what happened with the case of LaToya Snead who was sending very inappropriate text messages to young boy in her class. This past Spring, Snead was given only a reprimand by the State Board of Education.
Teacher Background Check Bill: More Transparency
The bill also did not require districts to notify parents. It’s been noted that parents were not always alerted by school officials when one of their teachers was arrested.
Another area that could strengthen the bill would be requiring the State Board of Education to publish their pending case list in addition to the completed revocations list.
The current license revocation list has yet to keep pace with media reports of arrests, sometimes because of due process and procedural steps required.
To date this year, 19 teachers have appeared on the revocation list.
American Lens has tracked 33 teachers arrested for a variety of crimes, mainly sexual activity with students, but only 2 of them have appeared on the teacher license revocation listing.