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Sexual abuse of students: What has Los Angeles done to stop it? (+video)

A new sexual abuse case involving a longtime Los Angeles teacher and, allegedly, 20 young students renews focus on record of reform in the nation's second largest school district. The case signals progress in more timely reporting of such allegations and swift notification of parents.

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State Senate Bill 10, backed by the LAUSD school board, would make the process of firing school staff faster and more cost-effective when they have engaged in serious misconduct related to sexual abuse, drugs, or violence. It would also give final authority to local school boards rather than the state Commission on Professional Competence.

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An earlier version of the bill passed the state Senate but died in the Assembly’s Education Committee last year. Sen. Alex Padilla (D) sponsored both bills.

In a statement about the original bill, which has not been significantly changed, the California Teachers Association issued a statement saying it “guts teacher due process rights by removing the accused employee’s ability to be heard before a neutral panel and replacing it with an advisory-only hearing before a single administrative law judge. The school board then has the authority to accept the judge’s decision, or reject it and commence a new hearing where they will determine the outcome.”

The union also said the focus on removal proceedings diverted attention that should instead be placed on LAUSD’s “failures to follow the law and their own policies,” when allegations first arose in the Miramonte case.

In supporting SB10, the LAUSD board noted in its statement that while the majority of teachers “are competent and caring professionals committed to the safety and academic success of all students … [i]n balancing the safety of our students against the rights of adults, children always come first.”

Thirty-four states empower school boards with dismissal authority, according to a fact sheet from Senator Padilla’s office.

As a result of the high-profile cases in Los Angeles and last year’s audit, “I am really hoping that … California is really going to close any loophole that affords protections to any predator in school and protects children instead,” says Terri Miller, president of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct, and Exploitation, based in Las Vegas.

Already, several factors in California make it easier to protect students from abuse than in some other parts of the country, Ms. Miller says. For instance, the age of consent for sexual conduct is 18 in California, but 16 in many other states, and some states don’t prohibit sexual contact between educators and students if the student is over the age of consent or if the contact occurs off of school property.

Victims can file a complaint directly with the credentialing commission in California. Even in cases when the abuse took place 20 years ago or the accused had retired, her group has had success getting educators’ licenses revoked, Miller says.

On a national scale, Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R) of Pennsylvania has backed the Jeremy Bell Act, which would bring fines or prison time to a school employer who facilitates a former employee getting a job in another state if he or she has engaged in sexual misconduct with someone under age 18.

Associated Press material was used in this report.

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