November 13, 2014

Manchin and Toomey Call for Congress to Protect Students From Child Predators

Senators Manchin and Toomey urge colleagues to vote on legislation to protect our children from predators in the classroom

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday evening, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) delivered remarks on the Senate floor to urge Congress to pass The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predator Act, legislation that would protect children from sexual and violent predators in schools.

The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predator Act would require any state education agency receiving federal funds to perform background checks on all employees who have access to children; prevent schools from hiring individuals who have previously been convicted of certain crimes, including crimes against children and; prohibit schools from quietly helping dismissed child predators finding jobs in other schools.

“Every child deserves to have at least one place where they feel safe and comfortable. For many of our kids these days, that place is at school,” Senator Manchin said. “This commonsense bill will truly help protect our kids from sexual assault predators or any individuals who inappropriately behave in our schools.”

The bill was introduced by Senators Manchin and Toomey after the death of Jeremy Bell, a 12-year student from Fayette County, West Virginia. Bell was raped and murdered by a principal who came to West Virginia from Pennsylvania after being quietly dismissed for sexual misconduct. 

For video of Senator Manchin’s remarks, please click here.

For audio of Senator Manchin’s remarks, please click here.

Senator Manchin’s full remarks are below:

M. President, I thank my good friend Senator Pat Toomey for working with me on critical legislation to make sure our kids remain safe in every single school across the country.

I am a father of three and a grandfather of eight, and there is nothing more important to me than protecting my children and grandchildren.

Our bill is just common sense and has already passed by voice vote with no opposition in the House.

This legislation simply makes sure that all employees who work with our students pass a background check to make sure they have no criminal records or an abusive history.

That includes everyone from principals, teachers and secretaries, to cafeteria workers and janitors.

Since January 1st, 410 teachers across America have been arrested for sexual misconduct. That is more than one teacher per day who has sexually assaulted a student. And that only includes those who have been caught and detained.

Do we dare wonder just how many predators we could have prevented from harming our students if this bill had been passed years ago, including preventing the outcome of the rape and death of a young West Virginia student, Jeremy Bell?

Jeremy was a fifth grade student from Fayette County, West Virginia who had been on an overnight fishing trip with his elementary school principal when he mysteriously died from a head injury in 1997.

Nearly eight years later, investigators discovered that Jeremy was raped and murdered by none other than Edgar Friedrichs Jr., Jeremy’s principal and supervisor on the trip.

Thankfully, Mr. Friedrichs is now serving a life sentence in connection with the Jeremy’s death.

And although Jeremy’s death is in-and-of-itself disturbing, Mr. Friedrichs’ past proves to be even more troublesome.

Prior to working as Fayette County’s principal, Mr. Friedrichs had previously been dismissed by a school in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, on suspicion of sexual misconduct.

That school then helped him land a new teaching position in West Virginia.

He taught for 26 years in West Virginia – 26 years – before he was finally dismissed in 2001 when he was indicted for sexually abusing four boys.

M. President, this story is heartbreaking and simply unacceptable.

As a parent, as a grandparent and as a representative of the great state of West Virginia – inaction is not an option.

There are more than four million teachers and school staff employed by our public school districts across the United States. 

And there are millions of additional workers who have direct access to students, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and janitors.

And yet, there is no national background check policy in place for the people who work directly with our kids every day.

Even worse, not all states require checks of child abuse and neglect registries or sex-offender registry checks.

And a recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that five states don’t require background checks at all for applicants seeking employment our schools.

In addition, not all states use both state and federal sources of criminal data like a state law enforcement database or the FBI’s Interstate Identification Index.

Our bill would simply require mandatory background checks of state criminal registry, state child-abuse and neglect registries, an FBI fingerprint check, and a check of the National Sex Offender Registry for existing and prospective employees.

M. President, every child deserves to have at least one place where they feel safe and comfortable. For many of our kids these days, that place is at school.

This is truly just a commonsense bill that aims to help protect our kids from sexual assault predators or any individuals who inappropriately behave in our schools.

If we can even make the smallest difference in changing the outcomes of students’ lives like Jeremy Bell, then we did our jobs.