Proposed Sexual Abuse Legislation Has K-12 Implications

Bob Kefgen's picture

In the last few months, both the House and Senate have been working on legislation dealing with sexual assault and sexual abuse. Some of these bills are a direct response to the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case while others are ideas that have been around a while, but are just now receiving consideration in light of recent events. Regardless of their origin, bills in both the Senate and House bill packages have implications for K-12 education and some would have direct impacts at the building level.

While it is neither clear which of these proposals will become law, nor what the final laws will look like, it seems likely that something is going to change and that those changes will have an impact on educators and students. To help Principals get a handle on what these changes might entail, below is a breakdown of the specific bill proposals that could affect K-12 education. NOTE: this is not a comprehensive summary of the bill packages, just a brief overview of specific bills taken through the lens of K-12 implications.

Senate Package

The Senate bill package deals primarily with legal implications (both criminal and civil) for sexual abuse and assault. The nexus with K-12 education are the changes to mandatory reporter laws and changes to school and school employee liability.

  • SB 872 would extend the statute of limitations for civil sexual abuse claims to 10 years for adults or up to 30 years after a person's 18th birthday for minors. The extended statute of limitations would apply retroactively to sexual abuse that occurred after December 31, 1996.
  • SB 877 would specifically provide that governmental entities (including public schools) and their employees do not have immunity from civil or criminal cases of sexual assault. When combined with the effect of SB 872, it could mean that school districts and employees could be subject to civil litigation for sexual abuse dating back to 1997 if they "knew or should have known" and failed to report the abuse to law enforcement.
  • SB 873-874 would extend so-called mandatory reporter requirements to individuals employed in a professional or counseling capacity at a postsecondary educational institution, bus drivers or bus driver aides, and individuals over 18 years of age who were paid or who volunteered to conduct K-12 or postsecondary interscholastic athletic activities or youth recreational athletic activities. Additionally, the bills would increase the penalties for mandatory reporters who failed to act, making it a felony punishable by up to two years' imprisonment or a fine of at least $1,000 but not more than $5,000, or both for paid school employees and slightly less for volunteers.

House Package

The House bill package, unlike the Senate bills, includes legislation specifically targeted at K-12 education, including an expended sex education statute that would include instruction on sexual abuse and domestic violence. Here's an overview of all six bills that have impact K-12 with additional discussion on two (HB 5785 and HB 5800) that MASSP is paying particular attention to.

  • HB 5539 would expand the state's OK2SAY hotline to specifically include sexual abuse, assault and rape as reportable incidents.
  • HB 5659 expands the list of mandatory reporters and specifically relies on increased penalties proposed by the Senate for person who fail to report.
  • HB 5785 adds new content on safe relationships, sexual abuse, and domestic violence to the state's existing sexual education law. NOTES: the bill sponsor has worked with MASSP to ensure that districts have flexibility about when and where to include the new standards in their curriculum and to require MDE to provide an optional model program of instruction that districts can use to comply with the law.
  • HB 5791 requires that new state-provided, age-appropriate material on sexual assault and sexual harassment be provided to students in grades 6-12.
  • HB 5800 would prohibit a district from expelling or suspending a pupil for more than 10 days for an action taken during an incident the pupil reports as being sexual assault. NOTES: The stated intent of the legislation is to encourage students to report sexual assault without fear of being punished for violations of school rules that they were engaged in at the time. MASSP has been working to try to avoid potential unintended consequences from this change and to avoid creating yet another special set of rules that districts have to follow with regard to student discipline.

Politics and Next Steps

Both bill packages are currently being debated in the House Law and Justice Committee. That panel is working from an evolving calendar that currently calls for them to report out a compromise bill package by the end of May. Those bills would need to then pass the full House and get concurrence in the Senate.

At this point, it seems likely that at least part of the Senate package will make it across the finish line…possibly before the legislative summer recess, though likely not without further changes. The future of the House bills is less certain, but debate on those will probably drag into September, which would likely delay their implementation until the 2019-20 school year. Finally, the politically charged nature of the proposed legislation likely means that some portions of the bill package won't make it all the way to the Governor's desk, though it's far too early to have a good handle on which bills could get left behind.

MASSP will continue to follow this legislation as debate continues.