WASHINGTON (AP) — Public schools would be barred from employing teachers and other workers convicted of sexual offenses against children or other violent crimes under a bill the House was expected to approve Tuesday.
The measure would require school systems to check state and federal criminal records for employees with unsupervised access to elementary and secondary school students, and for people seeking those jobs. Workers refusing to submit to the checks would not be allowed to have school positions.
A 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, cited one estimate that there are 620,000 convicted sex offenders in the U.S.
It also found that state laws on the employment of sex offenders in schools vary. Some require less stringent background checks than others, and they differ on how people with past convictions are treated, such as whether they are fired or lose their teaching license.
The bill has run into objections from major teachers’ unions like the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. In letters to lawmakers, their criticisms included concerns that the measure might jeopardize workers’ protections under union contracts.
In addition, the NEA wrote that criminal background checks “often have a huge, racially disparate impact” — a reference to critics’ complaints that minorities make up a disproportionately high proportion of people convicted of crimes.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., would forbid public schools to employ people convicted of crimes against children including pornography, or of felonies including murder, rape, spousal abuse or kidnapping. It would bar school districts and state education agencies from transferring workers who have engaged in sexual misconduct with minors to another location.
The measure would also apply to contractors who work at schools.
Employees with violations would be allowed to appeal, but they could not work during the appeals process.
The measure will need approval from the Senate. It is expected to be considered there in coming months as part of a broad overhaul of federal laws on elementary and secondary schools.