Feb. 14, 2006 – A new Michigan law aimed at insuring that state schools do not employ convicted sex offenders is under fire from school employee unions. They are raising alarm over apparent inaccuracies in the offender registry lists and new legal requirements that some see as overly invasive.
The law, which went into effect at the beginning of the year, calls for the immediate dismissal of school workers who have been convicted of a sex offense and lays the groundwork for a teacher registry, including mandatory fingerprinting and criminal background checks.
Under the legislation, a multi-bill package known as "Student Safety Zone," school boards would decide appropriate action for teachers with non-sex-related convictions. Both misdemeanors and felonies are to be examined. The measure also bars convicted sex offenders from living or working within 1,000 feet of a school.
Problems with the program surfaced earlier this month, when teachers across the state reported being erroneously listed as ex-offenders when they had no record or when their offenses were automobile-related or similarly minor infractions. Government officials have admitted that the lists contain flawed information and are reportedly working to correct it.
Spurred by the revelations, two Michigan school-employee unions called on lawmakers to rewrite portions of the law and pull the list requirement until the accuracy of information can be assured. In response to an injunction request filed by the Michigan Education Association (MEA), a county court last Friday kept in place an injunction preventing government agencies from making the lists public.
Noting that the Michigan State Police said it could develop a better, more accurate offender registry, the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) last week accused the state of "showing gross disregard" for its members in moving ahead with the program. Their comments mirror earlier charges by the MEA.
"The state has demonstrated gross negligence in releasing to school districts a list of school employees with criminal convictions that is, by its own admission, rife with errors," MEA President Lu Battaglieri said. "MEA cares deeply about school safety, and our members protect students every day of every school year. With the exception of parents, nobody cares more about students than school employees."
There are currently no bills pending in the Michigan Congress aimed at correcting the list. But a spokesperson for State Representative Craig DeRoch (R) last week told the Detroit Free Press that there are no plans afoot to do so.
In comments to the Detroit News, state officials said individual schools and their districts should undertake background checks if a teacher challenges the designation and, if the issue remains in dispute, the state recommends requiring teachers to be fingerprinted and re-checked.
Last Thursday, House Republicans announced the creation of a bipartisan subcommittee on the state sex-offender registry. The announcement did not indicate if the committee would address the erroneous information provided to schools.