Blackburn would mandate teacher background checks

News release from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn
Washington, D.C. — In 2015, 496 school employees were arrested nationwide for child abuse, and a publication recently suggested it’s occurring in Tennessee. As a result, Congressman Blackburn introduced H.R. 4666, the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act.

This legislation requires schools receiving federal funds to perform background checks on all existing and new employees as well as contractors who have unsupervised access to children. The background checks must be vetted through multiple state and federal databases. Under the bill, a school may not hire a person if he or she has committed certain crimes, including any violent or sexual crime against a child.

A study conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the average offender, who is a school employee, abuses 73 children over a lifetime.

“Providing students with safety shouldn’t be too much to expect when parents are considering a public school for their child. Each year, hundreds of teachers and faculty are arrested due to sexual misconduct with children. As a mother and grandmother, any number above zero is unacceptable. This is common-sense legislation that should have been on the books long ago. The safety of young minds is the foundation of our country’s future,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn’s bill is the House companion to Senator Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) bill, S. 474.

“In each of the last two years, more than 450 teachers and other school employees were arrested across America for sexual misconduct with children, including dozens of Pennsylvania teachers. This constitutes more than one arrest per day of the year, and those are just the pedophiles we know about,” said Sen. Toomey. “Every story represents a tragedy, a childhood shattered, and a family torn by grief, betrayal, and self-blame. We have an obligation to do everything in our power to safeguard our children from sexual predators. I am grateful to my House colleagues for joining me in this effort to protect America’s children.”

Further, from The Tennessean:

The Brentwood Republican’s measure comes on the heels of USA TODAY NETWORK and Tennessean investigations into teacher background check systems nationwide. That reporting found Tennessee is one of 11 states that require background checks for hiring, but allows local districts to conduct those checks. Although state law requires first-time teaching applicants to submit to a background check from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, sometimes checks aren’t happening or pertinent information isn’t discovered through the process.

The Tennessean specifically found several teachers with long track records of inappropriate behavior who were allowed to continue teaching. For more than 20 years, James Aaron Swafford faced allegations of inappropriate relationships with children, at one point being fired for striking a student, and yet he was able to continue teaching in Tennessee after admitting to sending love letters to a 16-year-old girl while teaching in North Carolina.

The state Board of Education’s disciplinary system, to some degree handicapped by state law, doesn’t bar teachers who’ve committed sexual or violent acts from teaching in the future.