Monday, June 2, 2008

Will it catch all the bad eggs?

On July 1 a new Virginia law requires courts to notify local school divisions when a teacher is convicted of a felony drug or sex crime. The law also requires local school divisions and social service agencies to notify the Virginia Board of Education when a licensed employee is dismissed or resigns because of a "founded child abuse or neglect case" or because of a criminal conviction.
This uniform reporting should help to catch some bad eggs, i.e. individuals who should not now, not ever, be in our public schools (or for that matter as a youth coach, a recreation director, or a youth pastor). Hopefully, it will prevent those bad eggs from moving from one school to another because nobody knew of their past.
But, I doubt this new law will accomplish all that its proponents claim. Recently a Staunton bus driver was arrested for having sex with a student. If convicted, the court will report her as required and she'll never work in Virginia schools again. But, because she had no record, nothing in this law would have kept her from being hired in the first place. And a year or so ago in another Valley division, an unlicensed teacher's aide and coach, was dismissed after disclosure he'd been involved sexually with a student.
Hen house gossip being what it is, we've all heard cases of school employees (or a pastor or coach) resigning under suspicion (but not "founded cases"), getting a letter of recommendation, and moving on to another job working with children. No law, no matter how well-intended, can make a principal or supervisor report suspicions to superintendents or the police. Too often the easy way is simply to push the problem out the door and on to others.
Another gap is that this is a state law. To be more effective, national legislation or an interstate compact setting up a nationwide data base is needed. It is all too easy for pedophiles to move across state lines and dodge the paper trail, if one even exists.
The Virginia law is a step in the right direction - but there will still be some bad eggs getting in the wrong places. Cluck.

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