One-hundred thirty. That is the number of teachers across America who have been arrested for sexual misconduct since Jan. 1. That is more than one teacher for each day of the year so far.
The stories are heartbreaking. A 13-year-old girl raped 30 times by her teacher, young boys lured in by teachers over Facebook or text messages, a special-needs kindergarten girl forced to go shirtless in class, and numerous teachers arrested for possessing child pornography. The list goes on and on. And these are just the predators who have been caught.
It was a slightly older story that first caught our attention — one that spans several decades and both of our states.
It began at a school in Delaware County, Pa. One of the school teachers was found to have molested several boys and raped one. Unfortunately, the prosecutor decided not enough evidence existed to bring a case. The school dismissed the teacher for his sexual misconduct. But, amazingly, the school then helped the teacher get a new job in West Virginia, passing along letters of recommendation. That teacher continued his atrocious behavior for two decades. It ended in 1997, when he raped and murdered 12-year-old Jeremy Bell in West Virginia.
Justice finally caught up with that teacher, and he is where he belongs — in prison serving a life sentence. For Jeremy Bell, justice came too late. But it is not too late for many other children. And that is why the two of us are acting.
We have introduced the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act. The bill requires any state education agency receiving federal funds to perform background checks on all employees and contractors — new hires and existing employees — who have access to children. Amazingly, as the Government Accountability Office recently reported, five states do not mandate background checks for school employees and 12 states do not require background checks for contractors who work at schools. Our bill requires that these checks be repeated regularly, to prevent anyone from slipping through the cracks.
The bill also requires that states perform the most thorough criminal background checks, checking two state and two federal databases. A school may not hire a person if he or she has committed certain crimes, including any violent or sexual crime against a child. And, we would ban the horrifying practice of a school letting a child predator quietly resign and move along to a new school, a practice so common it has its own moniker — “passing the trash.”
The children in our own states would be better protected under our bill. In West Virginia, new hires already go through complete background checks but not existing teachers. And the checks are not periodically repeated. In Pennsylvania, employees who have lived in the state for two years are checked against only the state database, and background checks are required only for new hires.
We believe our bill is simple common sense. We are not alone in crossing party lines to make this bill a reality. Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed this bill unanimously.
While justice didn’t come quickly enough for Jeremy, moving this bill now in the Senate will protect others.
Every day we wait is another day that a child predator goes undetected, hunting new victims and continuing to brutalize existing ones. Justice came too late for young Jeremy Bell. Let us not fail another child through delay.
Pat Toomey, a Republican, represents Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat, represents West Virginia in the U.S. Senate.