Superintendent Hofmeister, Sen. Loveless, Sen. Sparks, Rep. Denney: SB 711 is making schools safer


OKLAHOMA CITY (April 1, 2016) – Since it was signed into law on July 1, 2015, the provisions in Senate Bill 711 have provided protection for Oklahoma’s schoolchildren.
 
Under the measure, a school district superintendent must inform the State Board of Education when a teacher has been recommended for dismissal or has resigned due to grounds that could form the basis for a criminal accusation for sexual misconduct. In the nine months since the law went into effect, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) and the Board have taken action to suspend and proceed with certificate revocation hearings on 11 individuals in addition to at least five who will come before the State Board at its April 28 meeting.
 
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister commended lawmakers for SB 711.
 
“I am grateful to legislators for their work on SB 711 and their foresight to proactively defend the safety of every public school student in Oklahoma,” she said. “This law has paved the way for us to take swift action against the few bad actors in Oklahoma’s public school system. We must remain vigilant in our commitment to ensure the safety of every student and stand firm on our policy of zero tolerance for teacher misconduct of any kind.”
 
SB 711 is part of a larger effort within OSDE to provide increased teacher certification transparency. With the launch of the Oklahoma Educator Search Tool in early March, Oklahoma administrators and the public can now easily determine if a teacher’s certificate is active, expired, suspended or revoked. This public search tool is located on the OSDE website.
 
Sen. Kyle Loveless, who co-authored SB 711, praised the law’s positive effect on Oklahoma’s public school system.
“As the father of two daughters, I am pleased at the swift action the State Board of Education is able to take as a result of SB 711,” he said. “There is no room in a schoolhouse for sexual predators. We must continue to give school districts the tools they need to protect our students. Sexual predators in our classrooms are a cancer on our society, and we must do all we can to uproot the problem.”
 
Sen. John Sparks, the bill's principal Senate author, also highlighted the need to remove criminals from the public education system.
 
“We all know that the vast majority of teachers in our public education system are professional, caring individuals who often place the needs of Oklahoma’s schoolchildren above their own,” said Sen. Sparks. “However, as recent news stories have highlighted, a limited number of bad apples are still found operating within our schools.
 
“While these criminals are in no way reflective of the profession as a whole, I am thankful that under SB 711 the State Board now has the power to remove them as soon as possible while ensuring that they will never teach in Oklahoma ever again.”
 
Rep. Lee Denney, a House co-author, applauded the results facilitated by SB 711.
 
“By empowering the State Board of Education to take quick and decisive action against any teacher accused of sexual misconduct, I feel that SB 711 places us on an accelerated path to ensuring our children’s safety,” she said.
 
Before SB 711 and the creation of the Oklahoma Educator Search Tool, there was little to prevent a school district from unknowingly hiring a teacher who had been previously accused of serious crimes, including sex offenses, while with a previous district. School districts also faced possible legal action for communicating teacher employment information to OSDE. Consequently, teachers facing criminal charges could simply resign and apply for employment with another district.
 
On March 29, a Moore High School teacher was charged with allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student. The next day, federal prosecutors arrested and charged a Tulsa Union Public Schools’ assistant band director with possession of child pornography. Both school districts immediately suspended the teachers in question.
 
“In light of recent events, it is imperative we continue to do everything in our power to prevent these horrible incidents from occurring,” Hofmeister said. “Assuring the safety of our children is our number-one focus.”
Last updated on April 1, 2016