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Study Conducted On Protecting Students From Predatory Teachers

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

Oklahoma has made progress in trying to reduce the incidents of teachers sexually preying on students, but some lawmakers believe there's still more to be done.

An interim legislative study hosted Wednesday by Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, focused on the steps that have already been taken and where those efforts have come up short.

Among the handful of legislators who attended the hearing was Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, a former elementary school teacher who has concerns about making the system unfair to teachers, the vast majority of whom pose no threat to their students.

There is general agreement that the passage of Senate Bill 711 in 2015 has been a significant help in preventing teachers from engaging in inappropriate relationships with students. The new law, which went into effect Nov. 1, 2015, created a central database of abusive teachers at the State Department of Education.

Perhaps more important, it removed the legal barrier that had prevented school districts from sharing information about these teachers with each other, making it much more difficult for a predatory teacher to quietly transfer to a different school district.

Loveless believes the next steps should be requiring all school districts to adopt social media policies to help prevent inappropriate communication between a teacher and student, and determining a uniform punishment for teachers who are found to have taken advantage of students.

But Sharp, the former teacher, says the state has already done enough.

"I do not want the cure to kill the patient," said Sharp, "and that's where I do not want due process to be violated with these teachers, because there are false allegations."

"Yes, they have to have due process, we talked about that," stated Loveless, "and the Department of Education gives that to teachers -- I just believe that getting raped and abused is worse than being accused."

It's not known exactly how many cases of teachers abusing students there are each year in the state, but an official with the CARE Center, which works with abused children, testified that they are currently treating more than 100 kids who have been victimized by a coach or teacher over the last three years.

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