(CNSNews.com) — The Rhode Island legislature is considering a bill that would make it illegal for any school employee to have sex with a student between the ages of 14 and 18, and the two major teachers' unions in the state oppose the measure.
“We don’t have an issue generally with the subject matter with this bill,” testified James Parisi with the United Federation of Teachers on April 2.
“Our objection is that teachers and school employees are being singled out, and we find that objectionable,” he said. “Why should it be a crime for school employees, but not other folks? We don’t understand why it doesn’t cover store managers or clergy?”
The proposed legislation (H. 5817) states that a school employee could be charged with third-degree sexual assault if they “engaged in sexual penetration” with a student over the age of 14 and under the age of 18.
Although he did not testify before the R.I. Committee on the Judiciary on April 2, Patrick Crowley with the NEA-RI, a teacher’s union, did sign in to the hearing and note his opposition to the bill.
However, as noted by Catholic League President Bill Donohue, “On April 8, Robert Walsh, the executive director of the NEA Rhode Island defended the organization's opposition while saying, ‘It is patently ridiculous for anyone to imply that our organization, or any individual teacher, would condone any inappropriate relationship between a teacher and his or her students.’”
Donohue remarked in a statement, “What is patently ridiculous is to claim how horrible it is for a student between the ages of 14 and 18 to be a victim of sexual assault by a public school employee while also objecting to legislation that would punish such conduct. The power disparity between an agent of the state and a teenager should be obvious, even to lobbyists.”
The age of consent law in Rhode Island is 16. That means, under current law, teachers can legally have sex with their students who are 16 or older. The new legislation would close that loophole.
Commenting on the issue, parent and writer Erika Sanzi wrote that Parisi’s “point is well taken …. But to equate a store manager with an 11th grade teacher or school bus driver is patently absurd and insulting to parents who think this bill is a long overdue slam dunk.”
Testifying before the committee, Sanzi said, “There is a gap between the consent age, and the age kids graduate from school. So as it currently stands now, parents are compelled by law to send their kids to school.”
“It is legal — at the moment — for teachers to have sex with their students once they turn 16,” said Sanzi. “They can lose their teacher’s license and they can be fired, but that just means that they can jump to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, or anywhere else in the country and they are able to get another job teaching and preying on kids.”
CNSNews.com contacted the NEA-RI by telephone and left a message but the union did not respond before this story was published.
“What makes this argument [by the teacher’s unions] so stunning is that the public schools have been protected in every state in the nation from the same legislation on this issue that applies to the Catholic Church,” said Bill Donohue. “Whenever there is a bill that allows for the prosecution of old cases of abuse—extending back to World War II—the public schools are typically given an exemption.”
“Under the antiquated doctrine of sovereign immunity, a public school student who has been sexually abused by his teacher has only 90 days to file a complaint,” said Donohue. “That's it. So if he was raped at Christmastime, and has not contacted the authorities, it is already too late. To hear the teachers' unions now whine about being singled out is a bit too much.”
“The rap on the teachers' unions has always been that they care more about the rights of teachers than the welfare of students,” he said. “The NEA and UFT in Rhode Island just cemented that view.”