September 14, 2014

Keeping children safe: Federal measure merits support | Bluefield Daily Telegraph

A group of lawmakers led by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., are correctly calling on the U.S. Senate to pass a common-sense bill that would keep sexual predators out of schools. The proposed legislation would seek added security checks on teachers, coaches and bus drivers to protect students from potential harm.

The measure, co-sponsored by Manchin and Toomey, would specifically require states that receive federal education funding to conduct periodic background checks. It also would bar schools from hiring employees or contractors convicted of certain offenses, such as any violent or sexual crime against a child or drug and assault-related crimes committed within five years.

A similar measure passed the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives by a unanimous vote last year. But the bill introduced in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate remains stalled in committee. Why?

We see nothing sinister or political about this common-sense measure. All efforts should be made on both the state and federal level to ensure that our children are safe in school. And this includes keeping sexual predators, and those individuals previously convicted of violent crimes against children, out of the classroom. The last thing we need is a sex offender or someone with a violent criminal history teaching or coaching our children.

Since Jan. 1, more than 325 teachers and school employees have been arrested across the country for cases of sexual misconduct involving children. We, too, have seen similar headlines in recent years right here in Mercer County.

The legislation was prompted by the case of 12-year-old Jeremy Bell, who was raped and murdered in West Virginia in 1997, according to the Associated Press. Edgar Friedrichs Jr. is now serving a life sentence in connection with the boy’s death. Toomey said Friedrichs had been dismissed by a school in Delaware County, Pa., on suspicion of sexual misconduct. That school then helped Friedrichs land a new teaching job in West Virginia.

Toomey and Manchin correctly argue that the U.S. Senate needs to act now to ensure that children are safe in their own schools. An array of law enforcement and child advocacy groups are backing the Toomey-Manchin measure.

However, some educators say the proposed law violates their privacy. We would disagree with this argument. Most people seeking employment in this day and age — regardless of occupation — are required to undergo a stringent criminal background check, as well as a drug test. We would expect nothing less from those educators who are charged with the safety and well being of our children.

But Democrats aren’t the only lawmakers guilty of holding up this important measure in the U.S. Senate. Some Republicans are claiming that the bill amounts to nothing more than another federal mandate. We disagree with that argument as well. In fact, we would suggest that lawmakers — on both the federal and state level — should be doing everything in their power to protect our children. And this includes doing their job by passing legislation on the federal level that keeps sexual predators out of our schools.

The Toomey-Manchin measure should be passed, and promptly, by the U.S. Senate.