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Patrick T.
Republican PA

About Sen. Patrick
  • Student Success Act—Conference Report—Continued

    by Senator Patrick J. Toomey

    Posted on 2015-12-08

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    TOOMEY. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the education reform conference report that we will be voting on tomorrow, which I think is a good bill for two big reasons. First, it restores a significant level of decisionmaking power to the States and local school districts, which is where decisions about things like curriculum should occur. It diminishes the ability of the administration to pressure school districts and States into adopting the Common Core curriculum, for instance, leaving it to the discretion of the States and school districts to decide exactly what their curriculum will be. I think that is a sensible and appropriate approach.

    There is another big reason I think this education reform bill is an important bipartisan victory for kids, and that is for the first time I am aware of, the Congress is acting to protect our kids from pedophiles who infiltrate our schools and who have sexually abused children in the classroom.

    I know you are actively supportive of this effort, as many of our colleagues are, and I am delighted we were able to make it through the entire process, as painful and slow as it was. This important provision survived this process, and we will be voting tomorrow on the overall bill.

    I want to talk about this a little bit, but let me make it clear right up front that I understand--as I assume we all do--that the vast, overwhelming majority of teachers and school employees would never harm children in their care. They would never hurt them. They would never do it. They care deeply about the kids, and that is probably a big part of the reason they pursued a career in education. But it is also a fact that schools are where the children are and pedophiles in our midst are very aware of that, and they are attracted to schools for exactly that reason. The number of pedophiles who are succeeding in abusing children in schools is absolutely shocking; it is to me. Last year there were 459 school employees, mostly teachers--not all teachers but employees in schools--arrested for sexual misconduct with the children they are supposed to be taking care of. That is more than one a day, and unfortunately 26 of them were in Pennsylvania.

    So far, 2015 is almost over. We have already exceeded the number from 2014. We are on a path to have well over 460 teachers and other school employees arrested for sexual misconduct with kids. Let's be honest; an arrest occurs only when there is sufficient evidence to press charges, to make a criminal case in a court of law. How many more cases are occurring where we haven't had sufficient evidence to prosecute? The story that put this need on my radar is the absolutely horrendous story of a child named Jeremy Bell. This story begins in Delaware County, PA. One of the schoolteachers was molesting young boys. In time, the school administrators discovered what was going on. The local district attorney didn't feel there was enough evidence to actually prosecute a case. You know, it is hard to fire a teacher, so what the school did is it sat the teacher down and said: Here's the deal. You need to leave, but don't worry. We will give you a letter of recommendation so you can get a job somewhere else. That is exactly what happened.

    This monster went to West Virginia, got hired as a teacher, and eventually became a principal. Of course along the way he continued to abuse children. In the end he raped and murdered a 12-year-old boy named Jeremy Bell. Justice finally caught up with this monster. He is serving a life sentence in prison as we speak, but it was too late for Jeremy Bell.

    As a father of three young children, I find this whole idea so appalling that it is hard to talk about it and hard to think about it. We would all like to think that a story like the story of Jeremy Bell is a freak occurrence, a once-in-a-million-years kind of thing, but that is not the case. It is just not true. In fact, it has happened so frequently that it has its own name. It is called passing the trash. The people who spend their lives serving and helping the victims of these horrendous crimes to cope with them know about this phenomenon all too well.

    I will give you more recent examples. Just this year, WUSA News 9 reported that the school district of Montgomery County, MD, had a record of passing the trash. An elementary school teacher named Daniel Picca abused children for 17 years. The Maryland school district knew what was going on. What did they do? The teacher's punishment was to be moved from school to school to school, reassigning him every time a problem emerged, as though the problem was the school and not the pedophile. For 17 years they were passing a known child molester from one group of victims to another.

    Consider a case of the Las Vegas, NV, kindergarten teacher who was recently arrested for kidnapping a 16-year-old girl and infecting her with a sexually transmitted disease in the course of abusing her. That same teacher had molested six children--all fourth and fifth grade children--just a few years before when he was working in the Los Angeles school district. The Los Angeles school district knew about the allegations, but when the Nevada school specifically asked if there were any criminal concerns regarding this teacher when he was applying for a job there, the Los Angeles school district not only hid the truth, it provided three references for the teacher--so strong was their interest in making him become someone else's problem.

    These are examples that are all the more disturbing when you consider [[Page S8477]] that, according to a study by the GAO--Government Accountability Office--the average pedophile working at a school victimizes 73 children over the course of a lifetime.

    We have an opportunity tomorrow to say enough is enough. This is enough. This has been way too much--no more children falling prey to these monsters who have been able to infiltrate our classrooms, no more childhoods shattered, no more families devastated with grief, no more Jeremy Bells.

    The amendment itself is just common sense--really just common decency. It simply holds that if a State accepts Federal education funds, it has to have a law that bans the practice of knowingly recommending a pedophile to another school. Is there anybody in Pennsylvania or Colorado who thinks that is unreasonable? I don't think so.

    I am delighted that we have gotten to this point. There are a lot of people I would like to thank for their help. I have to start with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who joined me at the very beginning. We introduced this legislation over 2 years ago as a freestanding bill. In addition to banning passing the trash, it would require thorough and rigorous background checks for any school worker who has unsupervised access to children. That part was not included in this. I am not giving up on that. We will have that fight again. The part that bans passing the trash did succeed and demonstrates that with perseverance the right outcome can occur.

    I would like to thank the other cosponsors of this legislation, Senators McConnell, Alexander, Capito, Cotton, Gardner, Heller, Inhofe, Johnson, McCain, Roberts, Vitter, and Wicker. I would particularly like to thank the chairman of the HELP Committee, Senator Alexander, and Senator Murray, the ranking member. We talked about how we could make this work mechanically and make sure that we have legislation that will in fact achieve the desired outcome.

    I also need to send out a huge thank-you to all the child advocates and the law enforcement folks around the country, especially in Pennsylvania, who worked so hard to make this legislation happen. They were invaluable. I hope they realize how much of a difference they made in helping to persuade our colleagues to get this done.

    I thank Terri Miller and John Seryak of S.E.S.A.M.E., who have been fighting to protect children in the classroom for decades. I also thank the National Children's Alliance and the many child advocacy centers across Pennsylvania, most of which I have been able to visit, for the wonderful work they do for kids who need it badly; the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape; the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; the Center For Children's Justice; MassKids; the American Academy of Pediatrics; the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys; the National District Attorneys Association; the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association; the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association; the National Sheriffs' Association; and the National Association of Police Organizations. Every one of these groups weighed in on this legislation and helped us to get this over the goal line over the course of a long, protracted series of negotiations.

    Tomorrow I think we are going to have an important victory in our ongoing effort to protect children from sexual abuse. It is the first time that the U.S. Congress has acted to protect children in this way. There is more that needs to be done. I still think we need to revisit the state of the background checks that are applied. There are States that do not have an adequate background check system in place, and if they are taking Federal funding--which they are--they ought to have an adequate background check system.

    The truth is that this is a big step forward, and I am delighted we were able to get here. I am grateful for the help of every Senator who helped us get to this point. For this reason, for the sake of this amendment as well as the general thrust of the legislation, which is to move decisionmaking power back to the States and school districts where it belongs, I would urge my colleagues to vote in favor of the conference report tomorrow.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Rhode Island.

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