BOSTON – Massachusetts lawmakers are considering legislation to crack down on educators who sexually abuse students by outlawing all relationships, including those who meet the age of consent.
State Sen. Joan Lovely introduced Senate Bill 295 to address student-teacher relationships involving students between the ages of 16 and 19 – students who meet the legal age of consent for sex.
“I really don’t feel we in Massachusetts are doing enough to protect the children from sexual abuse,” Lovely said, according to the Boston Herald. “We need to protect the children.”
The bill would raise the age of consent for students in sexual relationships with teachers to 19, mandate annual training on sexual predators for all school employees, volunteers, and independent contractors, and require coaches and volunteers to report suspected child abuse.
The legislation would also require school employee applicants to disclose whether they’ve ever faced an investigation for sexual abuse or misconduct during the hiring process, the news site reports.
Members of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Association testified at a Joint Committee on Education Tuesday in support of the bill.
“There is nothing more important than ensuring the safety of our children,” said Chelsea police Chief Brian Kyes, president of the MMCCA. “This bill takes a giant step forward.”
Dudley Police Chief Steven Wojnar told the Education Committee he discovered that the law doesn’t protect students between 16 and 19 from sexual abuse at the hands of educators during a 2004 investigation, and has advocated for change ever since, according to the State House News Service.
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Winjar told the committee the 2004 case involved a sexual relationship between a 30-year-old English teacher and 16-year-old male student, which is currently not considered a crime under the state’s statutory rape law.
“I feel this is an extremely important issue which I have fought to correct for many years,” he said, according to the Herald. “I have pushed for legislation such as this to be passed for over a decade, and I hope we are near this becoming a reality.”
“Victims suffer greatly at the hands of these predators,” Wojnar told committee members. “They have the potential to suffer emotional and personal damage which may not be realized for years, if ever.”
Two mothers of 16-year-old girls who were abused by their teachers also testified at the committee hearing about the destruction the relationships had on their children.
“Our hands are tied,” parent Laura Siracusa said, according to WCVB. “We had no legal rights and that is just not right. They need to change the law. They need to change the law to protect students who are vulnerable at that age.”
“We’re trying to pass this bill for your children now,” said the other mother, Brenda Demers. “We’re doing this so no one goes through the pain we’re going through.”
The Massachusetts Teachers’ Association has been relatively silent on the bill, though teachers unions have historically opposed any effort to hold members accountable for their misdeeds. Unions in Texas, Pennsylvania and other states, for example, have opposed similar legislation by voicing concerns about members’ due process rights.
The MTA’s Facebook page and website are devoted mostly to advocating for increased education spending and pressuring local school districts during contract negotiations. Neither page mentions S.295.
The bill comes amid an apparent epidemic of educators sexually abusing students in schools across the country. Many of the cases involve educators having sex with teens, and often times the accused educators have faced similar accusations in other schools, EAGnews reports.
Lawmakers and advocates against educator sexual misconduct in several states have repeatedly pointed to secret resignation deals for accused teachers – commonly negotiated by union officials – that allow them to quietly resign in exchange for a letter of recommendation. The practice, known as “passing the trash,” allows those educators to repeat their behavior in a different school.
Lovely’s Senate Bill 295 follows similar legislation introduced in Indiana, Texas and other states to address the same issue.