The Oregon legislature passed a law on May 7 prohibiting school administrators from making deals that hide the sexual misconduct of teachers who resign.
These sorts of deals are so common that they have a nickname – passing the trash.
What happens is that an accused teacher is allowed to voluntarily resign from a school district without having the accusations investigated by the state’s teacher disciplinary board. Typically, the school district agrees to either provide a reference letter or to say something innocuous when asked – something like “he voluntarily resigned for personal reasons.”
It’s a good deal for the problem teacher and for the school district. The teacher gets to leave under a cloak of secrecy without having his teaching license affected, and the school district gets rid of a problem quietly and quickly.
But of course, for kids, it’s not a good deal at all. It can be devastating. The problem teacher can readily move to a new school district, in or out of Oregon, where he may abuse again and again.
So, with what’s been described as a “cutting edge” law, the Oregon legislature addressed the “passing the trash” issue. The new law will prohibit any school from “entering into an agreement or contract that suppresses information related to child abuse or sexual conduct.”
The law also requires that school districts must disclose to other districts any “substantiated” reports of sexual abuse or sexual conduct by a prior employee. It broadly defines “sexual conduct” so as to include “any verbal or physical conduct that is sexual in nature and directed toward a student,” including “grooming behaviors.”
So, for the protection of kids, Oregon is working to get teachers out of positions of trust in the classroom, based on standards that are less rigid than criminal conviction.
“Passing the trash” is a problem, not only among independent school districts, but also among autonomous churches. We’ve seen it over and over again in Baptist churches.
It’s the NIMBY response at work: “Not in my back yard.”
A church with a problem pastor decides it’s easier to simply let the pastor resign without looking too closely at troubling accusations. The church gets rid of the problem quietly, and the pastor gets to keep his career.
But of course, he moves on. And then he becomes a problem in someone else’s back yard – in someone else’s congregation and with someone else’s kids.
If a state legislature can figure out a way to stymie the NIMBY response among its school districts, why can’t leaders of the largest Protestant denomination figure out a way to stymie the NIMBY response among their churches?
Why aren’t they even trying?
Oregon has a population of 3.7 million. The Southern Baptist Convention claims a population in its churches of more than 16.2 million.
Aren’t the kids in that 16.2 million member populace entitled to at least the same measure of safety in their churches as the kids in that 3.7 million member populace get in their schools?
In a civilized society, we expect the protection of kids to be a priority. But the protection of kids requires more than merely preaching rote platitudes about “precious children.” It requires action.
So long as Baptist leaders persist in doing nothing to preclude churches from “passing the trash,” they leave Baptist churches as easy playgrounds for clergy sex predators.
Christa Brown is the national Baptist outreach director for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. This column appeared previously on her blog.
A retired appellate attorney, she is the author of This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and his Gang.