California Unable to Stop “Passing the Trash”
Written on behalf of Luis Carrillo
June 5, 2018
State lawmakers have failed to advance a bill that would require school districts to report complaints of sexual abuse in public schools to other school districts. What’s commonly called “pass the trash” involves the quiet release of a teacher, coach or employee suspected of sexual misconduct with children without giving proper notification to another district or school that wants to hire the accused perpetrator. When Senate Bill 1456 was recently introduced to the state’s legislature’s education committee, it hit a roadblock of opposition by the California Teachers Association citing concerns about civil rights violations.
California law currently requires school officials to report complaints of child abuse to police or a county child welfare agency, because school officials are mandated reporters, and by law they have to report suspected child abuse. But there’s no law on the books that forces districts to disclose information to prospective employers of an ex-employee’s suspected child abuse. By failing to warn other schools about predators, this reporting gap puts the safety and well being if children at risk.
This dangerous cycle is enabled by school district administrators that are fearful of litigation and controversy. This reckless practice is very similar to the sexual abuse scandal that plagued the Catholic Church, where teachers (like priests) accused of sexual misconduct with children were moved from school to school. More shocking is that school administrators choose to do nothing when confronted with information about allegations of abuse.
In my experience fighting for justice on behalf of victims of school sexual abuse, school employees, such as teachers, who prey on students don’t stop their behavior just because they change jobs. Sexual predators continue their sexual abuse of children until they are arrested. When school administrators fail to stop this damaging behavior the predators continue their sexual abuse of students, often over a period of many years.
Opponents argue the bill denies due process or legal recourse for the person who is accused if wrongdoing. The committee suggested excluding non-teaching employees such as custodians, bus drivers and secretaries and not requiring job applicants to self-disclose accusations of misconduct. Those proposed amendments to SB 456 would have rendered the legislation toothless, limiting its impact on student safety. It’s disheartening that the opponents of the bill aren’t doing more to provide stronger protections for our state’s children. The problem of sexual misconduct in the schools is more widespread than many realize.
According to a study commissioned by The Department of Education that examined the pervasiveness of teacher sex abuse, 10 percent of the students surveyed claimed they suffered sexual abuse by a school employee. Of those who said they’d been abused, 38 percent were in elementary school and 56 percent of the students were in middle school or high school. The study also found that Black and Latino students were more likely than whites to become victims of school sex abuse. While there’s federal law that protecting minors and students, the Education Department has virtually no power to enforce it.
Four other states, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Nevada and New Jersey have enacted laws and similar “pass the trash” bills are under consideration in Massachusetts and Oregon. This issue should not be controversial and should be simple to fix. California lawmakers must work together to get this legislation passed to protect our kids, who are the most vulnerable in our society.