RALEIGH — The N.C. House of Representatives voted 106-1 on Sept. 21 to approve a bill raising criminal penalties for teachers who sexually assault students.
The day prior, the Senate unanimously passed House Bill 142 by a vote of 47-0. The bill now heads to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. The lone no vote in the House came from Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake).
An unrelated amendment was added prior to the Senate passing the bill requiring the Buncombe County Board of Education to designate its electoral districts as well as establish a study of the Buncombe district merging with Asheville City Schools.
The bill went to Governor Roy Cooper on Sept. 22. As of today, Oct. 2, the governor has signed the bill, making it law.
Under the proposed bill, the crime of sexual activity with a student goes from a Class I to a Class G felony. A Class I felony has a sentence of three to 12 months whereas a Class G felony can be an eight to 31 months prison sentence. The crime of taking indecent liberties with a student has an identical increase.
Additionally, the bill prohibits the Retirement System’s Board of Trustees from paying retirement benefits to any member convicted of a felony if the offense is committed while the member is employed in a public school or if the offense would require revocation of a certification or professional license.
Per the bill, N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Center for Safer Schools is directed to create an age-appropriate informational video on child abuse, sex abuse and neglect for students in grades six through 12.
Reporting issues by district officials are also covered under the bill by making it a Class I felony if a school official fails to report a teacher engaged in misconduct to the state Board of Education.
Under state statute, teachers who are not recommended for dismissal are required to give a 30-day notice when resigning. If the notice is not given, the local board can request the SBE revoke the license for the remainder of that school year.
The same statute also says that if a teacher’s criminal history is relevant to the resignation, regardless of the 30-day notice law, the local school board “shall report” the reason the teacher resigned to the SBE.
In an interview earlier this year with North State Journal, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt indicated ongoing issues with resignation information coming to her office from the districts.
“I’ve had one in the last two years,” said Truitt. “I’ve only had one case of a superintendent letting me know of a 30-day — of someone who quit — and it was not sexually related. It was not about that. It was she quit for other reasons, but someone who quit without 30 days’ notice.”
In September 2022, Truitt asked Karen Fairley, the executive director of the N.C. Department of Instruction’s Center for Safer Schools, to add a tip function to report inappropriate behavior by education personnel to the “Say Something” anonymous reporting app used in districts across the state.
Fairley told North State Journal in a June 2023 interview that between September 2022 and June 2023, 75 tips under the new category had been submitted to the app.