Thursday, April 23, 2009

Committee Approves Bill Establishing Criminal Offense for School Officials Engaging in Sexual Activity with Students

The Judiciary Committee of the House approved a bill yesterday, HB 810, during a public hearing that would make it a crime for school officials to engage in sexual activity with students.

The bill’s sponsor is Representative Demetrius Newton (D) from Birmingham who pointed out that this is not only a national problem but a local problem as well.

In the state of Alabama the age of consent still remains at 16 years of age even though students attend high school up to 17 and 18 years of age.

Ms. Regina Fuller-Hopkins, parent whose 17 year old son was exploited by a 38 year old school teacher, presented her first-hand experience with this problem in the state of Alabama. She said that she was the last person to know that anything was going on between her son and the teacher while officials at the school in Birmingham were aware of the situation.

Once the information was turned over to the school board in Birmingham, it allowed the teacher to resign from her position without any information regarding the incident being reported on a record of any kind. According to Ms. Hopkins, the teacher “slipped through under the “sweet 16” measure.”

HB 810 would make a sexual act by any school official with a student under the age of 19 a felony and touching or any similar activity a misdemeanor.

Mr. Ronald Jackson, Executive Director of Citizens for Better Schools, was also present to testify on behalf of this bill. He pointed out, particularly, the vulnerability of special education students to being sexually exploited in the state. One specific case he spoke of took place in Brewton where a special education instructor would wait until students reached 16 years of age to assault them, thus eluding charges for misconduct.

Mr. Jackson also quoted a ruling by the Supreme Court on a case from Madison County in which there were 5 documented occurances of a school official engaging in sexual behavior with students. The court ruled that according to the current law, unless a school official is being “obvious and flagrant” with their actions, “rampant and demonstrating danger,” then that official can not be fired.

The committee gave unanimous approval to this bill which will be the first step toward cracking down on this issue.

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