Letter to the Editor: Toomey bill protects kids

Last year, news broke that the Coatesville Area School District had hired multiple convicted felons and entrusted the safety and care of children to such criminals. For example, Victor Ford’s convictions for multiple state and federal felonies did not stop him from being hired as a special education classroom aide and coach. One year into his employment, Ford was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a young girl, and later was convicted of corruption of minors for his conduct.

As prosecutors, we work day in and day out to protect our children from sexual predators in the classroom. But we cannot do it alone.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has acted and strengthened our state child protection laws. Specifically, the General Assembly passed a bill which bans the practice of “passing the trash” within state boundaries. “Passing the trash” is the reprehensible practice of quietly dismissing or allowing a school employee suspected of a sexual crime to resign, while still providing a letter of recommendation and failing to alert other schools to the employee’s misconduct.

However, this legislation does nothing to stop other states from “passing their trash” to Pennsylvania. The only way to stop this is with federal legislation. Luckily, one of our own United States Senators, Pat Toomey, is leading the charge to add this protection for our children.

Sen. Toomey has introduced a bipartisan bill, the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act, to prevent abusers from reaching children in the first place. In addition to banning the dangerous practice of “passing the trash” from outside states into Pennsylvania, Senator Toomey’s bill requires any school receiving federal funds to perform background checks on all employees and contractors who have unsupervised access to children. Amazingly, 12 states do not require background checks for these coaches, teachers’ aides, and substitute teachers who are often hired as contractors and who have virtually unfettered access to vulnerable children. The background checks must be thorough, covering two state and two federal databases, and must be periodically updated. Many states do not check the FBI’s national database, and Pennsylvania’s background checks do not include the National Sex Offender Registry. Under Senator Toomey’s bipartisan legislation, a school may not hire a person if he or she has committed certain crimes, including any sexual or violent crime against a child.

Sen.Toomey’s bill directly reflects some of the recommendations that the Chester County District Attorney’s Office made in the Coatesville Area School District Grand Jury Report about preventing criminals from gaining access to our children. Moreover, these requirements are supported by prosecutors across Pennsylvania as a common sense way to protect kids from sexual predators and other criminals. Senator Toomey’s bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously during the last Congress. We urge the United States Senate to follow suit, and provide our children the protection they need

Thomas P. Hogan
Chester County District Attorney

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