ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- After high-profile sexual misconduct cases in schools, Maryland took a step Thursday toward joining a growing number of states enacting legislation to prevent teachers with records of misconduct from moving school-to-school.
The Maryland House of Delegates voted 140-0 to ban nondisclosure agreements involving sexual abuse for school employees who have direct contact with children. The measure, which now goes to the state's Senate, also would require prospective school employers to conduct a thorough review of applicants' employment history.
"Child sex abuse is a horrible thing to acknowledge. It's so much easier to turn a blind eye to it. That's been failing our children for generations, and so we're not going to turn a blind eye to it," bill sponsor Del. C.T. Wilson, a survivor of child sexual abuse who has spoken of his experience while advocating for laws to protect children, said in a recent interview. "I'm going to do my best to make it as public as I can. If we air out our dirty laundry, we can clean it tomorrow."
Several states have passed legislation in recent years to stop what supporters of the measure often refer to as "passing the trash." Laws were enacted in New Jersey last year, Nevada in 2017, Connecticut in 2016 and Pennsylvania in 2014. Other states, including Washington, Oregon and Missouri, added similar laws even earlier.
Supporters of the Maryland measure say many parents are not aware that schools are bound by separation agreements and often cannot mention allegations of employee misconduct, which allows accused educators to move from job to job.
Terri Miller, president of Nevada-based organization Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation, said more states are considering the legislation now that the federal Every Student Succeeds Act includes a provision that prohibits aiding and abetting sexual abuse in schools.
California and Massachusetts are among the states looking at strong versions of the measure this year, Miller said, and other states are looking at strengthening laws already on the books.
"We're gaining momentum," she said.
The Maryland measure, which would apply to public and private schools, would prohibit schools from expunging data from personnel files in cases of employee sexual misconduct. It also would require applicants for positions in schools involving direct contact with children to disclose any instances in which they were investigated — unless the allegations were found to be false — disciplined, discharged or had a license or certificate suspended. The bill also would provide former and current employers with immunity from civil and criminal liability for providing information in good faith about misconduct.
The legislation comes as dramatic examples of abuse have surfaced in the state's schools.
Last year, an HIV-positive former teacher's aide and track coach in Charles County pleaded guilty to sexually exploiting minors for the purpose of producing child pornography.
Earlier this year, a private school in Maryland's capital released an independent report conducted by a Baltimore law firm that concluded 10 adults in positions of authority engaged in sexual misconduct or inappropriate relationships with students from the 1970s through the early 1990s and the school failed to protect them. The report conducted for the Key School found at least 16 former students were subjected to the abuse.
Carolyn Surrick, who said she was abused by two teachers at Key when she was 13 in the 1970s, wrote about her experience on social media in January 2018 using the hastag #KeyToo, a reference to the #MeToo movement in which women have spoken out about sexual harassment and assault. Surrick said the legislation is long overdue.
The Associated Press typically does not identify people who say they're victims of sexual assault. Both Wilson and Surrick said they wanted to be identified.
"For the survivors of Key School sexual abuse, we know that two of the faculty involved came from a school where their alleged abuse was openly accepted ... ," Surrick, 59, who tried to make the misconduct at Key public for more than 25 years, wrote in an email when asked about the bill. "Had this law been in effect in Maryland, numerous former students would have been saved from a lifetime of struggle as survivors of child sexual abuse."