Maryland Bill Would Make Background Checks by Public Schools More Rigorous

The Maryland General Assembly is deliberating legislation to stiffen the background checks conducted by public school districts.

The bill is gaining supporters and poised to be approved by the state House of Delegates, multiple officials told the News4 I-Team. It was introduced months after an I-Team investigation revealed loopholes in the safety net that protects public school children from abuse by predatory teachers.

The bill sponsored by Del. C.T. Wilson, D-Charles County, requires school districts contact prior employers listed by job applicants before hiring those applicants. It also requires teachers to confirm in writing that they’ve never been the subject of a child abuse investigation, unless the investigation found the allegations to be false.

“We don’t do the proper background checks," Wilson said. "We only do a criminal background check, which is pretty useless in these matters.”

He said the bill provides civil liability from lawsuits for school administrators who release records about substantiated sexual misconduct investigations involving former employees. It also bans non-disclosure agreements between schools and teachers involving child abuse investigations.

Wilson said his bill offers much needed protections.

“I know (teachers) support this bill, because this is about them," he said. "They don't want to be viewed as the enemy, because they're not. But there are a few bad apples, and they spoil the whole barrel.”

A 2018 investigation by the I-Team revealed a music teacher who’d lost his job in Florida — for sending text messages with sexual language to a female student — avoided detection and later found work in two Maryland public school districts. Among the revelations in I-Team report: The two Maryland school districts acknowledged they don’t contact all prior employers for background information about teachers who apply for jobs.

University of Maryland law student Kevin Redden testified on behalf of the bill before the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee in mid-February. Redden said the legislation will help flag teachers who have groomed children for possible misconduct.

“It’s a preemptive strike. It helps principals, teachers and parents identify individuals,” Redden said. “It would tip off principals not to hire these individuals.”

“The Maryland State Education Association supports this legislation to prevent child sex abuse and misconduct in our schools. We are working closely with Del. Wilson to strengthen the bill so educators are empowered to police their own profession and make sure anyone who commits these horrible actions never works in a school again,” said a Maryland State Education Association spokesman. The organization represents public school teachers throughout the state.

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