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Tougher teacher background checks

Published (4/25/2008)
By Thomas Hammell
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A little asterisk could mean big problems for some teaching applicants.

Sponsored by Rep. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove) and Sen. Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury), HF2657/SF2597* would require hiring authorities to check the Department of Education Web site for an asterisk, meaning that person has been disciplined for sexual misconduct with a student.

If an asterisk is found, the authority would have to check with the Board of Teaching to see what the substance of the discipline was before hiring that teacher.

Teachers could be hired before the check is completed, but could be terminated if past misconduct is found. Teachers could also be terminated for providing misinformation.

An amendment successfully added by Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Delano) would give schools an option that Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis already have — the option to suspend a teacher without pay if they have been charged with a felony. This could only be done if the underlying conduct that led to the charge is grounds for immediate discharge.

“If it’s good for Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, it should be the same with all other school districts,” Emmer said.

The teacher would be entitled to a hearing and the board would have to reimburse the teacher if the final decision does not result in a penalty or in suspension, termination or discharge of the teacher.

Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) said the bill is unnecessary, but would vote for it based on the Emmer amendment.

“It fundamentally says that we, as a state, cannot trust the locally selected officials to do the right thing for their children,” he said.

“I’m just hoping to have an added level of security and a consistent policy throughout the state,” Bigham said.

It was approved 129-1 by the House April 21. The Senate refused to concur two days later, and a conference committee has been requested. The original bill was passed 66-0 by the Senate April 3.

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