With broad bipartisan support, the House of Representatives today passed legislation to help keep children safe from sexual predators and other violent adults in their schools.
The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act (H.R. 2083) creates consistency across states in criminal history background check policy. It requires public schools to conduct comprehensive background checks for any employee or applicant for employment with unsupervised access to children, using state criminal and child abuse registries and the FBI's fingerprint database, as well as to periodically update these checks. It would also prohibit school districts from hiring or retaining anyone who has been convicted of certain violent crimes, including crimes against children, crimes involving rape or sexual assault, and child pornography.
"We owe it to students and their parents to help ensure schools are a safe place to learn," said Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "Overwhelmingly school employees are good, hardworking individuals looking out for the best interests of students. However, too often we hear shocking stories about students falling victim to violent and sexual predators. The tools to protect kids from predators are available and should be deployed in every school. A comprehensive background check of a school employee can advance the safety of countless children. This legislation will help close the gap in policies that allow child predators to go undetected. I want to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their strong support of this commonsense legislation."
"When parents send their children to school each morning, they expect them to be safe from harm. Day in and day out, millions of teachers, staff, and administrators do their utmost -- sometimes in downright heroic ways -- to put their students' safety first. But, despite these efforts, there remains a steady stream of stories from across the country involving students who have been abused by someone in a position of trust in their schools," said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee and author of the bill, on the House floor. "Schools must be places where faculty and students can focus on teaching, learning and treatment without fear of emotional or physical harm. The criminal background checks required in H.R. 2083 are essential to ensuring that schools and school districts are doing everything they possibly can to protect children. "
At the request of Rep. Miller, in 2010 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) uncovered a wide range of cases of convicted sex offenders, who had previously targeted children, working in schools alongside children. The GAO found that inconsistent state laws and regulations regarding the use of comprehensive background checks led to some school districts unknowingly hiring offenders. In other cases, GAO found that districts knowingly passed a potential predator to another school district, instead of reporting the offender to the proper authorities. The significant differences in the ways prospective school employees are screened lead to gaps in student protection. The House has passed similar legislation on a number of occasions, the most recent occurring in July, to require state and local officials to conduct comprehensive background checks.