Lloyd Smucker cleared an important hurdle this week when his bill seeking stricter oversight of teacher misconduct unanimously passed in the state Senate.
The West Lampeter Township Republican has been trying for years to update existing laws; he decided to take action after several cases of sexual abuse involving teachers in Lancaster County came to light.
“There seems to be a growing number of incidents where we see abuse by the adults in charge, and we’ve seen that firsthand here at home,” Smucker said.
Since 2006, at least a dozen Lancaster County teachers have been prosecuted or disciplined on allegations they sexually abused their students or engaged in inappropriate intimate contact with them.
Smucker hopes his legislation will address the problem.
It seeks to improve the process by which educators who engage in misconduct are identified, prosecuted and disciplined in Pennsylvania.
“The bill is designed to eliminate a hush-hush culture that allowed educators to operate in the shadows, hurting too many of our young,” he said.
As vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Smucker crafted the proposal in partnership with members of the Professional Standards and Practices Commission — the body that oversees the professional educator discipline system.
The most significant change under the legislation would include expanding the PSPC’s jurisdiction to include any individual who has a teaching certificate.
And it wouldn’t just be limited to public school employees. It would be applied in charter schools, private schools and to independently contracted educators.
It also would include additional requirements for mandatory reporting — most notably tightening most mandatory reporting periods from 30 days to 15 days.
“This is not an indictment of or assault on the teaching profession — it is the system that is flawed,” Smucker said. “By weeding out the bad actors, we enhance the reputation of many.”
In addition, the bill would:
* Lift a rule that complaints be filed within a year of the alleged misconduct.
* Remove a limitation on alleged victims that they file a complaint within five years of their 18th birthday.
* Expand mandatory reporting requirements to include reports of child abuse and “grooming” behaviors, such as the use of sexually explicit text messages.
* Broaden the list of acceptable disciplinary actions.
* Remove the confidentiality of public disciplinary actions after all appeals have been exhausted.
The legislation now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.