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Ky. lawmaker revives push for more thorough background checks on school staff

The Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort
Alix Mattingly
/
LPM
A Kentucky House committee has advanced a bill that’s meant to make it harder for educators to get hired if they have a history of sexual misconduct.

House Bill 275 would require districts and private schools to check with applicants’ previous employers to verify they were not found to have sexually abused students.

Educators who apply for jobs in Kentucky schools would be subject to more thorough background checks under a measure that advanced in a House committee Tuesday morning.

House Bill 275 would require school districts and private schools to check with applicants’ previous employers to see if any allegations of sexual misconduct led to their termination or resignation.

The measure would also require schools to finish investigations into allegations of sexual abuse, even after the employee has resigned.

Supporters, like University of Kentucky senior Kotomi Yokokura, say the bill would prevent abusers from moving between districts under the radar.

“I hope you vote in favor of this bill to show our students — our kids — that as a state, we care about protecting them from sexual misconduct in their schools,” Yokokura told lawmakers at a committee meeting.

It was the second session in a row Yokokura traveled to Frankfort to support the proposal and share her personal experience with lawmakers of being sexually abused by a Kenton County teacher.

“I wish I could tell you that my experience is unique, but since I sat here before the education committee less than a year ago, I’ve had friends, community members, teachers and strangers tell me their story, or a story that happened in their community,” Yokokura said.

A similar proposal passed the House as well as a Senate Education Committee in 2023. However, lawmakers never brought the measure to the Senate floor for final passage.

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. James Tipton, of Taylorsville, said some members of the Senate had concerns that last year’s version required the outcome of investigations to remain in employees’ personnel files, even if the employee was exonerated.

“So we did remove that language where … if a teacher is exonerated, that is not part of the permanent record,” Tipton said.

Tipton said he believed senators would be “more receptive” to the new version of the measure.

In addition to more thorough reference checks for school employment, the measure would require school districts and private schools to run a criminal background check on each employee every five years.

HB 275 would also prevent public and private schools from entering into nondisclosure agreements over allegations of student abuse.

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