AUGUSTA, Maine — Last fall, when The Associated Press conducted an investigation into sexual misconduct in the nation’s public schools, Maine was among the only states that did not provide access to teacher decertification records.
What’s more, Maine still does not share information with other states through national databases about teachers that have seen their licenses suspended or revoked.
Veteran lawmaker Peter Mills wants to change that.
Sen. Mills, R-Cornville, has sponsored LD 1191, An Act to Improve Teacher Confidentiality Laws, in hopes of striking a balance between genuine privacy of teachers in Maine and the public’s right to know.
The bill has been scheduled for a public hearing at 1 p.m. Monday, April 27, at the State House.
“This is a bill I wrote and rewrote and rewrote in the midst of controversy last year,” Mills said recently, referring to the AP’s probe into teacher records. “But, it was manipulated by those who didn’t want it. The draft that’s on the table now, according to most, is a fairly balanced compromise.”
In essence, LD 1191 would allow access to confidential information on denials, revocations and suspensions of teacher certification only by a national association of state directors of teacher education or by law enforcement agencies. The bill also would authorize the state Department of Education to provide to the public statistical summaries of complaints as long as confidentiality was maintained.
Mark Gray, executive director of the Maine Education Association, a statewide teachers’ union that opposed Mills’ version of LD 1191 last fall, said MEA is willing to work on a compromise.
“This has kind of been an ongoing issue dating back to the fingerprinting controversy,” he said, referring to Maine’s efforts several years ago to ensure that all public school employees submit fingerprints. “The issue that we’re concerned most about is, once this information becomes available, everyone is going to want it. It will be a free-for-all.”
Teachers in Maine can lose their certification for a number of reasons. When the AP conducted its probe last fall, the news organization was trying to determine how widespread sexual misconduct had become in public schools. Under current state law, the only people with access to records are Maine school superintendents or school committee members. Unless conduct rises to the level of criminal charges or convictions, however, there is no way for the public to access those records.
Gov. John Baldacci supported similar changes to state policy last year, citing a need to protect not only Maine children, but also those in other states.
Mills said it makes sense that if Maine wants information from other states about teachers who have been disciplined, it needs to provide reciprocity.
“Right now, [states] don’t get much from us,” he said.
An MEA representative is expected to provide testimony next Monday on LD 1191. Gray didn’t say whether MEA would support the bill or not, but he did reiterate the union’s willingness for compromise.
“We’re trying to balance this against our interest in protecting teachers,” Gray said. “We’re certainly not trying to keep people in classrooms that shouldn’t be in classrooms.”