AUGUSTA — Maine aims to improve how the state tracks investigations into educators accused of wrongdoing under a law signed this week.

Lawmakers passed the legislation to fix a rushed 2018 law the state’s largest teachers union claimed didn’t protect educators with teaching credentials who are falsely accused of misconduct. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed the bill Wednesday.

Lawmakers raced to pass legislation last year following reports that a former Democratic lawmaker had romantic relationships with students he met as a teacher and coach at a now-shuttered all-female high school in Portland.

That law gave schools a 15-day deadline to let the state know about investigations into teachers for inappropriate conduct such as “violating boundaries.”

Schools also had to disclose what exactly was being investigated and the final outcome of all investigations — including whether they ended up suspending or terminating teachers.

But even supporters of that legislation say it had unintended consequences.

The Department of Education says the state was learning highly sensitive information about investigations that cleared teachers, for example.

“Nothing sends a shudder down the spine of a professional teacher than to hear: ‘We need to report this to the Department of Education,'” Maine Education Association lobbyist John Kosinksi told lawmakers this month in written testimony.

“Yet, this is exactly what is happening to teachers all over the state because of the law passed last year, and because, without guidance, we believe superintendents are unnecessarily reporting investigations that have little or no merit,” Kosinksi said.

The union didn’t take a position on the latest bill, which lawmakers just began considering this month.

The 2018 law also left no way for the state to notify schools about ongoing investigations into teachers who leave and try to work in another school, said Karen Kusiak, the department’s legislative liaison.

The new law, effective September, would allow the state to release such information to the new school if the teacher consents.

Instead of notifying the state about all investigations, schools will now immediately tell the state if a teacher leaves before an investigation ends. Schools would also have to provide reports justifying their decisions to discipline, suspend or terminate teachers for endangering the health, safety and welfare of a student.

Teachers could submit a written rebuttal.

Still, even the latest law is also facing criticism.

Steven Bailey, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, said requiring a teacher’s consent for the state to disclose incomplete investigations “leaves the door open for someone to skirt disciplinary action and just go to a new district.”

Bailey’s group is set to work with the teacher’s union, the Maine Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Education to look into problems with the law. That report is due in February, and lawmakers could act on recommendations.

“We’re hoping we can clean it up to make sure there are no loopholes left in the bill,” he said.


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