New Education Law Aims to Keep Students and Educators Safe

Our jobs are to educate our students in a safe, healthy environment,” said MSEA President Cheryl Bost. “This new law regarding sexual misconduct is intended to add a protective layer to the hiring process to safeguard students’ well-being.”

The Law

The law*, which went into effect July 1, 2019, requires an applicant for a position involving direct contact with minors (teacher, substitute, contractor, paraprofessional, custodians, secretaries, etc.) to provide a list of current and past employers where the applicant held a position that involved direct contact with minors, and a consent form authorizing the employers to release all records relating to child sexual abuse or sexual misconduct allegations, unless:

• The allegations were determined to lack sufficient evidence per an administrative investigation or a determination by an arbitrator;

• The allegations were determined to be unfounded by a law enforcement agency; or

• The allegations relative to child sexual abuse were ruled out by the Department of Social Services

Employer Responsibility

Previous employers are now required to provide a written statement relative to any documented sexual misconduct allegation(s) against the applicant, including the outcome — discipline, discharge, non-renewal, termination, resignation, loss or suspension of license or certification, or settlement. This review of an applicant’s employment history and their eligibility for employment or certification status is required by law.

Protecting Students and Educators

The law protects students by prohibiting a county board of education from entering any contract or agreement — collective bargaining or otherwise — that would: (1) suppress information related to an investigation or disciplinary action; (2) preclude the county board from reporting such misconduct to the appropriate authorities; or (3) require the county board to expunge information about the allegations or findings of misconduct from the employee’s personnel file unless the allegations were determined to lack sufficient evidence. MSEA will be working with legislators on possible changes to rectify unintended consequences of this new law and protect educator rights when false accusations are made that may impact current or future employment.

The Definition of Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct is defined by the law as an act by an adult, including an oral, nonverbal, written, or electronic communication, or a physical activity directed toward or with a minor that is designed to promote a romantic or sexual relationship with the minor. This includes:

• Sexual/romantic invitation

• Dating/soliciting dates

• Engaging in sexualized/romantic dialogue

• Making sexually suggestive comments

• Grooming behaviors

• Self-disclosure/physical exposure of a sexual, romantic, or erotic nature; and

• A sexual, indecent, romantic, or erotic contact with the minor

While we need to be vigilant in guarding against an overgeneralization of conduct as sexual, these types of allegations are serious and sometimes nuanced, for example: an educator placing their hand on a student’s shoulder during the middle of class is not sexual, but an educator asking the student to meet after school and placing their hand on the shoulder of a student may be sexual.

Healthy Relationships Matter

As educators, we build and model healthy relationships with our students. If those relationships are compromised, it undermines the hard work we all do to lift our students up to the high standards they need to be successful,” Bost said.

*Section 6–113.2 of the Maryland Education Article

Questions about the new law? Contact your local association UniServ director.