House committee votes to hike penalties for sex abusers in public schools
Public school employees who commit sexual offenses against students would face harsher penalties under a bill passed Feb. 21 by the North Carolina House K-12 Education Committee.
“Simply put, this bill is about protecting students in public schools,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt told committee members. “It’s about ensuring laws are clear, that they are followed, and that appropriate consequences are outlined and pursued.”
House Bill 142, Protect Our Students Act, is meant to target school personnel who engage in sexual intercourse or other sex acts with students. The measure slaps school personnel offenders with a class G felony. The bill includes teachers with a professional license plus other school employees, including school administrators, student teachers, school safety officers, or coaches.
The bill also expands the definition of student to include recent high-school graduates up to six months after finishing school. Truitt noted that in some instances, inappropriate relationships begin recently after a student graduates, “relationships that have been clearly preceded by grooming behavior occurring while the student was in school and the teacher as the authority figure.”
Under the bill, school leaders who fail to report misconduct to the N.C. State Board of Education face a class I felony. The State Board is responsible for suspending or revoking professional licenses in these instances.
Another provision of the bill requires school districts to show a video to students in grades 6th through 12th containing age-appropriate information on sexual abuse.
Truitt shared that between January 2016 and October 2022, there were 124 instances of sexual misconduct resulting in license suspensions, revocations, or voluntary surrenders related to sexual misconduct among teachers. Those figures don’t include offenses by non-licensed school personnel.