Minnesota lawmakers in both the House and Senate this past week introduced a series of bills relating to school employee misconduct. The bills covered everything from tightening background checks and reporting requirements to handling sexual misconduct.

The first five were presented Tuesday to Minnesota House Education Policy and Innovation Committee and the sixth came on Thursday at the Senate Education Policy Committee.

With each bill, every testifier and elected official praised teachers in Minnesota. Everyone in the room understood that these were difficult topics to cover and that changes are needed for only a very few bad employees. The overall consensus was that something more needs to be done to protect students and make sure they are safe.

Background Checks

Rep. Jenifer Loon and Rep. Kelly Fenton presented bills relating to teacher licensure. The bills would seriously tighten background checks, reporting, licensing and dismissal.

They would add domestic assault, criminal sexual conduct, and embezzlement of state funds to the list of infractions under which teachers could lose their license. The language also requires additional background checks for teachers to be done every three years.

There were questions from the committee regarding the cost of the additional background checks and what constitutes embezzlement. The testifiers were all mainly in support of the bill. The main concern they raised was who would cover the cost of the background checks.

Education Minnesota testified that they had concerns with the automatic revocation provisions in the bill. Rep. Loon said she would continue to work with stakeholders on their concerns as the bill moves through the process.

There was agreement to avoid burdening teachers or creating an unfunded mandate for school districts.

Loon’s bill (HF 2795) bill passed unopposed and was sent to the transportation committee for its next hearing.

Rep. Fenton’s (HF 2777) bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus education policy bill.

Sen. Eric Pratt, Chair of Education Policy, then on Thursday, presented a bill (SF 2748) that takes some of the ideas presented in the House hearing.

The discussion at the focused on the main points and concerns that were brought up in the House hearing. Sen. Pratt makes different modifications to the additional background checks for teachers in his version.

Education Minnesota did bring forward concerns about a new provision allowing for a suspension of a teacher before a conviction. The question of due process was the main concern with the new language. Sen. Pratt agreed to work with stakeholders on the language as the bill moves forward.

The bill passed and was sent to the Judiciary Committee.

Reporting Requirements

The third bill presented dealt with reporting requirements of the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) board. Rep. Jim Davnie, who said he found out about the issue from a television news report last year, authored the bill.

The language would require PELSB members and employees to report any misconduct they might be made aware of. Currently they are not required to do so.

The bill (HF 2795) was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus education policy bill.

Sexual Misconduct

The fourth and fifth bills were almost identical. Rep. Drew Christensen and Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen introduced legislation changing the age of consent for sexual misconduct by a school employee from 18 to 22 for students. Currently a school employee cannot be tried for sexual misconduct with a student if the student is 18-21 years old.

Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom testified that on two occasions there had been reports of sexual misconduct with an adult student that they could not prosecute due to this loophole. The only difference in the two bills is the definition of a school.

Rep. Christensen’s bill (HF 3203) has a broader definition and was moved on to the Public Safety Committee.

Rep. Gruenhagen bill’s (HF 3035) was laid over for possible inclusion in the education omnibus policy bill.