New state law targets teacher misconduct

MEDFORD — A new state law intended to protect K-12 students from sexual misconduct by school employees is expected to reform school districts' hiring and training procedures — and add to their workloads.

During a time of shrinking budgets and staffs, school officials say they hope technology can help them handle what is expected to be an influx of personnel information requests about former employees.

"This is a huge amount of paperwork and keeping track of that is going to be huge," says Todd Bloomquist, Medford schools human resources director.

House Bill 2062, which took effect Thursday, defines sexual misconduct for the first time. It is intended to end the practice of what has been known as "passing the trash," in which an educator facing discipline for misconduct may negotiate a deal with a school district to resign in exchange for the district concealing his or her record of misconduct.

The law requires districts to send a form to a job candidate's three previous employers requesting disclosure of any past incidents of sexual misconduct, including resignations in lieu of terminations. School districts also are bound by law to furnish that information within 20 days.

Bloomquist says the law is an important step in protecting students, but the time involved in handling the extra paperwork for Medford's 1,100 employees equals a full-time staff member. School districts not only have to send out request forms but also supply that information to other school districts requesting it.

Bloomquist says hiring another clerical employee would cost the district $25,000 to $35,000 per year at a time when the district has to cut expenses because of dwindling funding.

As an alternative, Bloomquist and other members of the Oregon School Personnel Association and the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission are working with EdZapp to come up with a way to supply and fill out the request forms electronically in hopes of saving staff time.

EdZapp is an online job database and applicant tracking system for educators, similar to for the general public. About 150 of Oregon's 198 school districts contract with EdZapp for services, says CEO T.J. Chandler.

In anticipation of the law changes, EdZapp added a feature in June on its online applications requiring applicants to check a box that they agree to supply their past employers' names and to give permission for EdZapp to contact those employers.

"If they don't agree, we can't hire them," said Michael Remick, Eagle Point schools human resources director. "That's the law. We are hoping EdZapp will come up with a way to streamline contacting previous employers and sending information to new employers."

The next step is to develop an electronic form on which school districts can exchange employee information related to sexual misconduct, but there are questions about what will and won't comply with the law, Chandler says.

"There isn't clear direction from the Legislature whether if there are two different districts that are considering the same applicant we can make one request on behalf of both districts," Chandler said. "The burden is going to be on the hiring district, but what really is going to explode is the burden on the previous district because a candidate could be applying for several jobs."

Chandler says the company would like to track applicants who already have been "cleared" by a district so that information can be used again.

"The stickiest part is figuring out if a district clears an applicant today and there is another request for the same applicant a week later, do we have to send new requests to the next district?" he says. "It's critical that these hires are made expeditiously but without allowing in child molesters."

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