- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Local school districts would be encouraged to report accusations of sexual misconduct by teachers to state education officials under legislation approved by the Oklahoma House on Thursday.

Proponents said it’s needed to prevent “teacher hopping” by sexual predators who move from one school district to the next to prey upon children. But opponents said such cases are usually handled by the courts and the bill could unfairly tarnish the reputation of a teacher who is falsely accused.

“In this country, people are innocent until proven guilty,” said Rep. Chuck Strohm, R-Jenks. “We already have laws on the books to protect our kids.”

House members voted 61-29 for the Senate-passed measure and sent it back to the Senate to consider the changes.

The bill authorizes local school districts to give the state Board of Education a superintendent’s recommendation to dismiss or not re-hire a teacher if the recommendation includes grounds that could result in criminal charges for sexual abuse or exploitation.

The bill does not require that the recommendation be forwarded to state officials and says school districts nor education officials won’t be held liable for not forwarding it. If the recommendation is forwarded, then a copy must also be forwarded to the teacher, the bill says.

The bill’s House author, Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, said it is designed to protect school children by alerting education officials of allegations of sexual misconduct.

Denney said not all accusations are pursued in the courts and the information could be used to warn other school districts of a teacher’s troubled past.

“My goal here is the protection of our children,” Denney said. “This is just an opportunity to stop teacher hopping.”

But the bill bypasses the judicial process by delivering allegations of sexual misconduct to state educators, said Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum. Cannaday, a retired educator, said instances of sexual misconduct by teachers are rare and he had never personally encountered one.

“I’ve read of people doing this who are in prison. When it happens, to my knowledge, it has been dealt with,” Cannaday said.

Strohm questioned whether the state Board of Education could securely maintain allegations of sexual misconduct against a teacher.

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Online:

Senate Bill 711: https://bit.ly/1y3sPA7

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