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Kentucky bill giving schools power to fight teacher sex abuse advances, but with changes

Lexington Herald-Leader
A Kentucky House bill that would strengthen a school’s ability to prevent child sexual abuse by adult staff was approved by a Senate committee Thursday.

House Bill 275 was unanimously approved by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. It now goes to the full Senate. House Bill 275 was filed by Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, the chairman of the House Education Committee.

House Bill 275 would make it more difficult for teachers with multiple allegations of misconduct to move from school district to school district

It would bolster disclosure requirements for teachers accused of sexual misconduct, up training requirements and require teachers and other personnel to pass criminal background checks every five years. It would also ban nondisclosure agreements between schools and teachers if they are accused of misconduct.

Tipton told the committee Thursday the school district would also be required to complete an investigation into misconduct regardless if the person resigns. Tipton said the bill would apply to all school personnel not just teachers.

A controversial provision of the bill that kept it from being passed in 2023 has been removed, Tipton said Thursday. Only prior substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct would be kept in a teacher’s file. Those unsubstantiated claims would not be kept in a teacher’s permanent record.

Kotomi Yokokura, a University of Kentucky student and a graduate of a Kentucky high school, told the committee Thursday she was a survivor of grooming and sexual abuse by her high school teacher.

She said the teacher gained her trust, then emotionally manipulated her. During tutoring sessions, he gave her massages, exposed himself and sexually abused her, she said. An anonymous adult told the principal, who notified Yokokura’s parents. Yokokura contacted Kentucky State Police.

Yet, the teacher continued to message and text other students, she said.

It wasn’t until college that she understood what had happened to her.

Yokokura approached Tipton and asked to testify in support of the bill in 2023 and returned

“I was not the first person to experience educator sexual misconduct in Kentucky and I’m not the last,” she said.

Since she testified in 2023, Yokokura said multiple people have approached her and told her similar stories about being sexually abused by a teacher or school personnel.

A September 2022 investigation by the Herald-Leader highlighted the problem of teacher sexual misconduct in Kentucky. The newspaper obtained 194 cases of teachers who voluntarily surrendered or had their license revoked or suspended from 2016 to 2021. Of those, 118 — 61% — lost their license due to sexual misconduct.

Over the past 24 months, at least a half dozen educators have been charged on sex-related crimes involving students.

Some educators have been accused of sexual misconduct more than once and then moved to a different school district, the Herald-Leader found.

It’s not clear when the full Senate will vote on HB 275.

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