The Kentucky House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 275, which aims at preventing school districts from keeping a teacher’s sexual misconduct secret or willfully ignoring allegations of misconduct.
The bill moves to the state Senate after Thursday’s 95-0 vote in favor of the measure in the House.
Among its provisions, the text of the bill “prohibit a public school district or public charter school from entering a nondisclosure agreement relating to misconduct involving a minor or student.”
The proposed law also requires school districts to conduct reference checks and requires job applicants to disclose allegations or investigations faced in the previous 12 months, a time restriction absent from a version of the bill presented last year.
“It’s an unfortunate reality of the issues in our society,” said bill sponsor James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, reported the Louisville Courier Journal. “We’d like to think situations like this don’t happen, but we do know that all too often there are people in positions of authority who abuse that position and take advantage of young children and students.”
Taylor said that his family had been affected by the issue and that he wanted to make sure that teachers couldn’t just resign to avoid investigation and repercussions.
The bill requires school districts “to internally report and investigate to completion all allegations of abusive conduct” and keep records of such investigations unless the allegations prove to be false.
“These individuals are responsible for some of the most heinous crimes that we see involving students,” said Tipton, according to WPSD local News 6. “They should not be allowed to harm our children and then move on to another school district to avoid punishment.”
The Lexington Herald-Leader this week detailed a 2023 case, in which parents of a student identified in a lawsuit as Jane Doe alleged a male teacher seduced their daughter over several years with the knowledge of “multiple school district employees.”
The teacher was eventually indicted on 23 counts related to the inappropriate relationship.
It wasn’t the first time the teacher’s conduct with students had been questioned, according to the suit.
“School officials turned a blind eye when Zaheri impregnated a female student shortly after her graduation, failing to acknowledge and report that the relationship began while the female was still in high school,” the lawsuit alleges, according to the Herald-Leader.
The teacher in question, Andrew Zaheri, 40, pleaded guilty last week to production of child pornography related to the sexual misconduct, while still facing a host of other charges.
Of the 194 cases in Kentucky where teachers voluntarily surrendered or had their license revoked or suspended from 2016 to 2021, 61% of those teachers lost their license due to sexual misconduct, a Herald-Leader investigation found.
Jon Hollan, a lawyer for Jane Doe, welcomed the legislation, but said more should be done.
“We applaud Rep. Tipton’s efforts to protect our students and children throughout Kentucky and make our school systems safer and a protective place for children,” Hollan told the Herald-Leader. “No child should endure sexual harassment or assault from a teacher. We must have a system in place that keeps teachers with troubled backgrounds from switching from one district to another.”