North Carolina bill would increase punishment for sexually abusive teachers

North Carolina Republicans are determined to throw out the trash, not pass it.

A group of Republican state representatives introduced HB 142, also called Protect Our Students Act, on Thursday, which would recategorize sexual acts and “taking indecent liberties” as Class G felonies, punishable by up to 31 months in prison.

Lax laws and a lack of accountability in many states enables “passing the trash,” where teachers commit sexual misconduct only to be rehired at a different school.

Although sexual misconduct against students occurs everywhere, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt believes it is particularly egregious in North Carolina.

“I sign license revocations every month, every month for teachers who have behaved inappropriately with students,” she said during a meeting of the House K-12 Education Committee. “We need to tighten our restrictions around this incredibly heinous activity that we are seeing more and more occur in our middle and high schools.”

The problem goes back decades.

The North Carolina Board of Education revoked or suspended 289 teacher licenses between 1999 and 2009. Nearly half were for sexual misconduct against students.

In 2022, nearly 350 K-12 public educators were arrested nationwide for crimes against children, including grooming, pornography, and rape, reported Fox News.

Researchers estimate that 10% of students will experience some form of sexual misconduct before they graduate high school. Other data suggests as many as 38% of students are harassed by teachers or school employees between 8th and 11th grade.

However, 85% of child abuse victims never report their abuser. One out of every five child abusers will have more than 10 victims, while serial molesters may even have hundreds of victims.

“It is of epidemic proportions,” Terri Miller, president of S.E.S.A.M.E. (Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation), said in 2015. “It’s one of the worst forms of child abuse that has gone unrecognized for decades.”

In addition to increasing the punishment for criminal behavior, HB 142 requires school officials to report possible misconduct within 5 days. Failure to do so would also be a felony.

If passed, HB 142 would take effect on Dec. 1, 2023.