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New Bill Aims To Track Teachers Accused Of Sex Crimes

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Education advocates are optimistic about a new measure to crack down on teachers accused of committing sex crimes. Education advocates are optimistic about a new measure to crack down on teachers accused of committing sex crimes.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

Education advocates are optimistic about a new measure to crack down on teachers accused of committing sex crimes.

A News 9 investigation first exposed a loophole in the law, allowing these teachers to quietly resign and still keep their teaching license.

Senate Bill 711 is intended to prevent accused teachers from slipping under the radar and ending up back in the classroom in front of another set of students or potential victims.

The legislation comes in response to increasing publicity surrounding these cases.

"I'm not a monster and I'm not a predator," said Jennifer Caswell, a former teacher at Hollis Middle School who admitted to having a relationship with a 15-year-old student.

She recently tried to explain herself on national television.

Dr. Phil asked her a series of pressing questions including why she resigned from the school.

"The school became suspicious and when they called me out on it, I kind of freaked out," Caswell said, "I just signed the paper to resign and I walked out."

Caswell was eventually convicted of rape and lost her teaching license, but that's not always the case.

Often, the victim's parents do not want to press criminal charges so the school district allows the teacher to resign.

"If the teacher resigns there is no record, or paper trail, or anything," Representative Lee Denney, R-Cushing explained.

She and other lawmakers took up the issue this legislative session and passed SB711.

"This just is an opportunity for a clearing house at the State Department of Education to keep track of these bad actors and prevent them from preying on our children," Denney said.

Under the new law, school districts are encouraged but not required to notify the board whenever a teacher is dismissed for potentially criminal behavior.

Lawmakers say the bill also offers safeguards for teachers falsely accused

"It's a start, it's a start," Amy Ford, a former board of education member has been pushing for legislative action on this issue for years, and wishes this bill had been stronger.

She said there's still nothing to prevent a school district from doing what Hollis Schools appeared to do with Caswell.

"They [school district] told this individual teacher you are not going to lose your teaching license if you resign," said Ford.

Still, she and other education advocate are grateful for this first step

"We owe our children protections and we owe the parents the comfort of knowing when they send their kids in the school that this teacher hasn't been in a previous district raping and harming children," Ford said.

State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister believes measure will strengthens communication between the Oklahoma State Department of Education and districts on matters of school safety.

"This measure will put crucial information into the appropriate hands to provide greater protection of students, and I am grateful to Governor Fallin for signing it into law," said Hofmeister.

The law goes into effect July 1st.

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