While Massachusetts lawmakers consider a bill that would better protect students from predatory teachers, some area police chiefs are weighing in.
Many members of law enforcement say they are frustrated and angry that their hands are sometimes tied when it comes to criminally charging teachers or other youth workers accused of sexually assaulting teens in their care.
“Right now a student could have a relationship with a teacher and there’s no criminal law against it,” Middleton Police Chief James DiGianvittorio said.
“We had a case back in 2004 where we had a 30-year-old English teacher that engaged in a relationship with a student and the student was 16-years-old at the time that that happened,” Dudley Police Chief Steven Wojnar said.
More than a decade later, the current age of consent in Massachusetts is still only 16.
“As we looked at it, believing there were some type of criminal penalties that applied, there were very little,” said Wojnar.
But a bill before state lawmakers would make it illegal for a teacher to have sex with any high school student 19 or younger who is under their authority.
“If there’s now a criminal penalty perhaps it’s a deterrent for people not to engage in these types of situations,” said Wojnar.
It would also ban confidentiality agreements that allow a so-called “predatory teacher” to leave one school district without mandating that their next school district be notified.
The bill would fine schools for not reporting abuse allegations and require all school employees and volunteers to be trained in preventing and reporting child sex abuse.
“We feel strongly that if we have this bill in place, the public will have the education that they need to work with young children and know the warning signs,” DiGianvittorio said.
The bill is currently being discussed in the Joint Committee on Education.