Rep. Linda Flores: Student Protection Task Force Gains Traction

Press release from State Representative Linda Flores:

(Salem) “I am pleased to see the Education Committees moving forward with many of the ideas we’ve covered in the Student Protection Task Force,” said State Representative Linda Flores (R-Clackamas). Flores was named Chair of the bi-partisan task force during the 2008 Special Legislative Session. The group was charged with addressing the problem of school districts entering into confidential agreements with teachers who might have abused students. The Oregonian newspaper reported on this system of “passing the trash” in February during the Special Session.

On Friday, June 6th, the House and Senate Education Committees will consider several legislative proposals to deal with this issue. Many of the ideas surfaced during meetings of the Student Protection Task Force held in March and May. “Ronald Reagan used to say, “˜there’s no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit’. I am eager to see what we, collectively as policy makers, can accomplish to help ensure the safety of our students,” noted Flores.

Some of the suggested changes the Task Force has discussed that will be brought up on Friday include making school districts liable if they don’t report abuse and a teacher moves to another district and hurts other children. Flores pointed out another Task Force area, “was to make sure the buck stops with local school board members. Sometimes they are left out of the process when these secret deals are reached. They are the elected officials and need to be held accountable.”

One key area Representative Flores has pushed for the past two years is better background checks for teaching and non-teaching staff. The Education Committees are now exploring a special work group to review fingerprinting, reference checks and other screening methods. During the 2007 Session, Flores was instrumental in getting legislation adopted by the House Education Committee which would have required national and state background checks for all school personnel who came in contact with children. Democrat legislative leaders allowed the bill to die in committee.

At the last Task Force meeting an official from the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC) told the group less than half of all school employees are regulated by the agency. An estimated 20,000 people in Oregon’s public schools are not required to be licensed by the state.

“One of the recommendations made at our first meeting was for TSPC to put more details on their web site about why teachers have their licenses taken away,” explained Flores. “The Commission is now doing that and I think it’s a step in the right direction. We will continue to work on other reforms.”

The backlog of complaints against teachers filed with TSPC has been an ongoing concern for legislators. The agency currently has nearly 300 active cases; 84 reported since the Oregonian series was published. Of the 300; around 100 are priority cases.

The Student Protection Task Force also includes State Representatives Brian Clem (D-Salem), Deborah Boone (D-Cannon Beach), John Huffman (R-The Dalles), Tina Kotek (D-Portland), Sherrie Sprenger (R-Scio), and Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver).