A new state Senate bill aims to reduce the number of inappropriate teacher-student relationships. This comes after a year of multiple high-profile cases of misconduct.
Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee) is the vice chair of the Senate education committee and was a longtime teacher and coach himself. He believes that to stop these crimes, maybe educators just need to be reminded of the consequences.
Senate Bill 899 would put in place mandatory training for all Oklahoma school employees every semester, explaining that anyone convicted of sexual misconduct with a student faces prison time, losing their teaching certificate, and a lifetime of being labeled a sex offender. Prospective teachers would also have to take a course outlining these punishments before they can receive their teaching certificate from the state.
Sharp says, “This should be a reality check for every person involved in schools to say, ‘hey, this is not something I can do.’”
In recent months News 9 has reported the arrest of a Yukon teacher for sexual relations with a teenaged boy, and a Davis teacher resigned after filing for a marriage license with one of her students.
Sharp says a change in classroom culture is partially to blame, as teachers are now more casual than they once were.
“We have to make sure that we can develop that wall, of which the teacher cannot cross,” he says.
But with 86-year-old teaching assistant Arnold Cowen facing nearly two dozen charges for molesting elementary school girls, the attorney for those victims Cameron Spradling believes frequent reminders of the consequences will not make a difference.
He says, “A sexual predator does not care whether it’s wrong, whether he’s going to lose his family, whether he’s going to lose his job, whether he’s going to lose his freedom, because what drives him or her is within them.”
Instead, he says it will be up to people around those criminals to speak up, and protect the students as you would your own children.
“If you’re a teacher who has children,” he says, “and you see a teacher or coach who takes interest in your child that’s unusual, then say something.”
Both Sharp and Spradling are saddened that this even has to be a conversation, and encourage all educators to remember their role as public servants to the community.