The Morning Call: Nearly four years after Toomey’s child predator bill became law, most states still not enforcing it
Washington D.C. – Today, the Morning Call highlights concerns that the vast majority of states are not in compliance with a 2015 provision authored by U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to ban “passing the trash,” the horrifying practice by which schools help known child molesters on staff obtain jobs at other schools—where they can become “someone else’s problem.”
Senator Toomey successfully pushed to include a provision in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act which requires states to put in place laws, policies, or regulations to prohibit this practice. According to an independent study, as of January 2017, 39 states “had no plans to create relevant legislation or policy” to comply with the law. As a result, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is working to hold states accountable and enforce the ban on “passing the trash.”
“Nearly four years after enactment of my bipartisan ban on ‘passing the trash,’ the vast majority of states have no plans to comply. This is completely unacceptable and an insult to children who have been sexually abused.” – Senator Pat Toomey
“There is simply no room for sexual abusers in America’s schools. Perhaps the only thing more deplorable than an adult harming a student is other adults actively covering up what happened. Unfortunately, this happens all too often, as Congress recognized when it passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which prohibits school districts from enabling those who have engaged in sexual misconduct to find employment at another school. I want to thank Senator Toomey for his leadership in shining a light on the disgraceful practice, known as ‘pass the trash.’ The Department is currently reviewing how states and districts are implementing policies that ensure no one that preys on children will ever be allowed back in a classroom or school, anywhere.”-- Secretary Betsy DeVos
Read the full story below:
Nearly four years after Toomey’s child predator bill became law, most states still not enforcing it
By: Laura Olson
The Morning Call
July 15, 2019
Tucked inside the 2015 law that overhauled a range of policies for the nation’s K-12 schools was a provision U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey had sought to crack down on child predators who have been able to quietly move from school to school.
The legislation targeted a practice known as “passing the trash,” when school officials discover or suspect a teacher or other employee has engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor, but they help the dismissed abuser get a new job in another school district without sharing what they know.
Some states, including Pennsylvania, already had laws on the books to prohibit the practice. Part of that includes banning confidential separation agreements, which can prevent school officials from sharing information about sexual misconduct or abuse.
Those laws, however, were only in place in a handful of states, and child predators cross state lines.
The case often cited by Toomey in urging the legislation was that of Jeremy Bell, a 12-year-old from West Virginia who was killed in 1997 by his principal, Edgar Friedrichs. Friedrichs was suspected of molesting students during his time as an elementary school teacher in Pennsylvania, but was never charged. His school eventually dismissed him and helped him find a new job.
The federal legislation sought to standardize protections for students, requiring states to ban confidential agreements in cases of sexual misconduct, and to prohibit districts from helping an employee get a new job if the district knows about or has credible information on sexual misconduct.
“Congress’ ban is long overdue," Toomey said when the legislation headed to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature.
But nearly four years later, the vast majority of states haven’t met those requirements.
A study funded by the Department of Justice found that as of January 2017, only four states — Connecticut, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas — were in compliance with federal law. Seven more were working on legislation at that time, according to the Magnolia Consulting report from researchers Billie-Jo Grant, Stephanie Wilkerson and Molly Henschel.
That left 39 states not in compliance and not planning to take any action, either because officials thought their current laws met federal requirements or they weren’t aware of the new provision, according to the report.
The lack of state action and prompting from Toomey’s office led the Department of Education to take action last July. The department told state officials to fix their laws so federal officials wouldn’t need to take enforcement actions, such as placing special conditions on receiving their Title 1 education dollars, which is supplemental funding for schools with large concentrations of low-income students.
Now the department is following up on its reminder letter. Agency officials in May awarded a $600,000 contract to SRI International, which will interview officials in every state to ask what they’re doing to meet the federal requirements.
SRI says it will give the Department of Education an interim state-by-state analysis this summer, and will produce its full report by spring 2021.
“Perhaps the only thing more deplorable than an adult harming a student is other adults actively covering up what happened," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement, adding that these policies must be implemented to "ensure no one that preys on children will ever be allowed back in a classroom or school, anywhere.”
Toomey said it is “completely unacceptable” that most states have not yet complied with the law, and he praised the Education Department’s latest step to ensure states fix their statutes.
“Nearly four years after enactment of my bipartisan ban on ‘passing the trash,’ the vast majority of states have no plan to comply,” Toomey said in a statement. “This is completely unacceptable and an insult to children who have been sexually abused.”
Advocates who track policies to prevent child abuse also say they’ve been frustrated by the lack of state action.
Terri Miller, president of the nonprofit Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation, said she is glad the Education Department is assessing why states haven’t complied. Her group will be providing expertise to researchers working on the Department of Education study.
But while that analysis is underway, Miller knows she’ll continue to learn of new abuse cases that could be prevented.
“Something is happening. We’re getting movement, but it’s too slow,” Miller said. “It’s heartbreaking and outrageous that our children continue to suffer as a result of lack of enforcement of this provision.”