State lawmakers working on bill to change investigations into teachers after i9 Investigation

Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 8:05 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Lawmakers are working across the aisle to change the way teachers are investigated when they are accused of misconduct.

In December, our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team found Iowa school districts commonly allow staff members under investigation for sexual or physical assault to resign, rather than face a termination process. Experts say it hides the allegation of abuse and criminal investigation from future employers.

State Representative Dustin Hite (R-New Sharon), who is the chair of the house education committee, said he’s been looking at making changes to the process to investigate teachers for months. He introduced a bill, which is known as House File 2505, that makes multiple changes to the process to investigate teachers.

HF 2505 by Ethan Stein on Scribd

The bill would no longer allow a teacher accused of misconduct to stay anonymous during investigations, give civil liability protections to a district discussing misconduct complaints with other districts, legalize fines to administrators for reporting errors and end resignation agreement contracts.

Resignation agreement contracts are agreements districts and employees might enter into when a resignation following an accusation occurs, like in the Union Community School District. Those agreements could include payouts, benefits, no admission of wrongdoing or an agreement to only tell other districts the dates of employment during a reference check.

The bill also changes the Board of Educational Examiners, which is the state agency overseeing educator’s licensing. The current board is made up of 12 members including two people from the general public and nine licensed practitioners. This bill would change those requirements to six people from the general public and at-least four licensed practitioners.

The Iowa Association of Schol Boards, Rural School Advocates of Iowa, the Iowa State Education Association, and the School Administrators of Iowa all have registered lobbyists against the bill.

Roark Horn, who is the executive director for the School Administrators of Iowa, said he agrees in concept with the bill and believes the process to investigate teachers could be improved. But, he’s concerned a part of the bill creating an oversight board to investigate complaints would create fewer reports because employees wouldn’t be able to make confidential reports.

“If they’re in a situation where they have to report and maybe have to go through a committee of stakeholders that might be too intimating for them,” Horn said.

Margaret Buckton, who is a professional advocate for the Rural School Advocates of Iowa, said in an email the group is against the bill because of the oversight committee, changes to the make-up of the Board of Educational Examiners, and districts being required to check with the board if there are any unfounded claims or reports on teachers employed.

She said this bill isn’t written well to protect both teachers and students.

“Our opposition to this bill isn’t about wanting to protect these individuals,” she wrote. “But, because the way it is written now, as it does not strike the necessary balance between student and teacher confidentiality and due process protections for those who have allegations that were not proven to be founded.”

Rep. Hite said the bill is being rewritten to include feedback from different education groups, like removing the oversight committee. He said he’s working to get the bill more widespread bipartisan support.

“Bring everything to me,” Rep. Hite said. “I really want this to be bipartisan and try to get as many votes as possible.”

Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City), who is the ranking member on the statehouse education committee, said the rewriting process is already underway. She’s working with lawmakers to make changes to the wording to cut out even more loopholes like outlawing spoken resignation agreements.

Both parties hope these changes can create a bipartisan bill every group and chamber can support.

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