OHIOANS should be pleased that the legislature has finally passed a bill designed to rid state classrooms of abusive teachers. But before they praise their lawmakers, they need to know that repeated requests by the Ohio Department of Education for such a bill were ignored for years. It took a newspaper's revelation that abusive teachers were routinely being allowed back into class before a bipartisan measure passed almost unanimously.
School officials are morally bound to take every step necessary to protect children. However, it took a 10-month investigation by the Columbus Dispatch and a four-day series before state lawmakers moved to do just that. The stories revealed that teachers were allowed to keep teaching even though some had records of fondling students, exposing themselves, and hiring prostitutes.
Ohio is, of course, not alone. Underscoring just how bad the problem is, a separate national Associated Press investigation found that during a five-year period, educators were penalized in more than 2,500 sexual misconduct cases for conduct ranging from bizarre to sadistic.
Fortunately, the Ohio bill, which is expected to be signed into law by Governor Strickland, will have teeth. It will require teachers to undergo an FBI check every five years.
It will require the state education department to establish a teacher code of conduct, and give the department authority to revoke the licenses of teachers convicted of crimes, to prevent them from teaching in another state.
State lawmakers took so long to move because they yielded to the fears of teachers' unions that members could be falsely accused. True, students who dislike teachers have been known to make false claims. There are, however, trained investigators whose task it is to sort out the truth. Yet the unions proved quite skilled at stalling. The education department asked for an abusive teacher law each year, starting in 2000. When Rep. Tom Raga (R., Mason) finally introduced one in 2005, it was tied up for a year before finally passing last December, but with little muscle left.
It is to our lawmakers' shame that, until the newspaper series, they did so little to protect schoolchildren. Fortunately, the legislature has finally acted responsibly, even if they haven't exactly presented a collective profile in courage.