FUSD Supt wants stiffer penalties for abusive teachers

FRESNO, California

The bills are in response to several cases where teachers were accused of committing a sex crime against students. On Wednesday, a group of educators and city leaders testified in favor of the proposals - including one from the Valley.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson was one of several school administrators to testify in favor of measures.

"I testified because I wanted to make sure people knew this wasn't just rising out of the L.A. Miramonte Elementary school scandal, but this is important," he said.

Hanson was joined by the mayor of Los Angeles as well as another school administrator from Southern California. He said, while the issue made headlines there, it also hits close to home for many Valley families.

"Fresno Unified has a case going on involving a teacher accused of sex with a student right now," he said. "It's in the press about a teacher in Washington Unified, Clovis had theirs earlier this year, there's a Bakersfield case going on and then there's the Hooker case in Modesto. This is a statewide issue and just on that topic."

One of the bills, sponsored by Senator Alex Padilla cleared the Senate Education Committee. The legislation would give school boards more authority to fire teachers and eliminate requirements to notify them about disciplinary charges before removing them from the classroom.

"For us to have all this time and energy spent to have to outsource those decisions to an administrative law judge and a panel, they would have to discern whether this was worthy of dismissal seems a little ludicrous," said Hanson.

Ludicrous, he said, because of the time and money spent before a decision is made. But opponents like Greg Gadams of the Fresno Teachers Association said the bill is open to interpretation and will strip teachers of their right to a fair disciplinary process like the one currently in place.

"We're not against the fact if someone commits an egregious sexual crime the district has the right to move on that. It's the fact, in this language, they make the school board the final decision maker," said Gadams. "So it means they are the trial and jury and they don't have to present any evidence."

The other bill from Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff did not get enough votes to advance. It would have taken pensions and health benefits away from abusive teachers and required them to be removed from the classroom if they are under investigation. Hanson also supported that bill and said he was disappointed, but not surprised to see it didn't go through.

That's not the last we may have seen of the legislation though. Right now, there is an Assembly version of the bill making its way through the State Legislature. The Assembly Education Committee made some changes to it - enough to drum up more support.

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