Tennessee lacks clear procedures and policies regarding educator sexual misconduct with students, according to a report released Wednesday.
The Comptroller's Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) examined Tennessee's relevant laws, policies, and practices in the report following several high-profile cases involving school personnel and the sexual abuse of Tennessee students.
In 2016, a USA Today investigation gave Tennessee an 'F' following a national investigation of educator sexual misconduct in schools that looked at each state's efforts to reduce the chances that an employee with a history of sexual misconduct could move from one school to another without repercussions.
One ongoing case that involved a 14-year-old student in Nashville found that Nashville school officials failed to report concerns to appropriate child welfare investigators. A Knox County teacher was able to retire with full benefits in 2016 despite being sentenced to 10 years in prison for possession of child porn.
In 2014, the Times Free Press found that almost 160 Tennessee teachers had been disciplined for inappropriate conduct with minors since 2004. Yet, this audit completed by the Comptroller's Office warns lawmakers and education officials that Tennessee is not doing enough to prevent such incidents.
The report found that Tennessee school districts bear the brunt of responsibility for ensuring that new employees are cleared to work with children, however school districts' policies across the state lack clarity about what constitutes educator sexual misconduct that involves students.
Tennessee's teacher code of ethics, which is included in state law, also does not refer to appropriate boundaries between educators and students. The state also has not addressed a provision in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, that requires actions by states or districts to prevent teachers who have committed sexual misconduct involving students from obtaining employment in other school districts, according to the report.
The report also recommends that school districts clarify how they educate children about personal safety.
In 2014, Tennessee lawmakers enacted "Erin's Law" which encourages schools to provide prevention education to teachers and students. But a 2012 measure from lawmakers still acts as an obstacle to Erin's Law. The so-called "Gateway Law," approved by the legislature in 2012, allows for teachers and school districts to be penalized for providing anything but abstinence-based sex education. It prohibits any discussion of "gateway" behaviors that could lead to premarital sex.
To read the full report, Educator Sexual Misconduct Involving Students in Tennessee Schools, visit comptroller.tn.gov/orea.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.