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Kentucky House committee OK’s bill for better teacher background checks

The exterior of the Kentucky state capitol, with dome under construction.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Rep. James Tipton brought the measure after a Lexington Herald Leader investigation revealed significant gaps in the state’s process for teacher background checks.

The bill requires school districts to check if teacher candidates have been accused of abuse in previous teaching jobs.

Teacher candidates would be subject to more stringent background checks under a measure that advanced through the Kentucky House Education committee Tuesday.

House Bill 288 is meant to prevent teachers with a history of abuse from getting hired in other school districts. It would require districts and private schools to do a reference check with every Kentucky school system and private school the candidate previously worked for and review all allegations of abuse.

Recent high school graduate Kotomi Yokokura told the committee she was sexually abused by a teacher in Kenton County, and she doesn’t want abusive teachers to fly under the radar.

This bill is important because it can help prevent these teachers from being able to continue abusing students,” the 21-year-old said. “I hope that you support HB 288, as I have lived through the overwhelming fear and shame and the inescapable nightmares that result from abuse at the hands of a teacher — an adult who children are supposed to be able to trust.”

Republican Rep. James Tipton of Taylorsville, who sponsored the bill, said it would also ensure districts and private schools complete any investigation they open into abusive teacher conduct. Tipton said he knew of at least one instance in which a teacher was accused of abuse, but resigned before the district completed the investigation and was hired in another district.

“We want a requirement that these things are followed up with, that they’re not brushed aside,” he said.

Tipton brought the measure after a Lexington Herald Leader investigation revealed significant gaps in the state’s process for teacher background checks.

Other provisions in the bill would:

  • Make it illegal for schools to enter into nondisclosure agreements when teachers are found to have abused students.
  • Require teacher applicants to disclose any allegations of abuse against them in the past 12 months.
  • Require teacher applicants to undergo a state and federal criminal background check.
  • Require teachers to undergo a state criminal background check every five years.
  • Require school districts and certified private schools to maintain personnel records of all allegations and investigations of abuse, including when an investigation concludes the allegations were false or unfounded.
  • Require teachers are trained every five years on appropriate teacher-student interactions.

The measure heads to the House for further consideration.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.