Public Enemy Number One of Missouri Teachers -- Headed Toward a Congress Near You?
by Randy Turner
It is only a matter of time before state legislatures begin passing laws that prevent public school teachers from living within a certain distance from the schools where they teach.
From there, it is only a short step toward not allowing us to attend sporting events or go to the movies since we would have unfettered access to impressionable schoolchildren.
When it comes to surefire bills that all legislators can support, all you have to do is target one of three types of people -- sex offenders, drunk drivers, or classroom teachers.
In my last HuffPost blog, I wrote of Sen. Jane Cunningham's bill, passed unanimously in the Missouri House and Senate, which purportedly strengthens already strict laws regarding sexual contact between teachers and students.
In a series of news conferences over the five years Mrs. Cunningham has pushed the idea that Missouri has a far greater instance of this type of abominable activity than other states, citing an Associated Press survey which showed that only 10 states have more teachers whose licenses have been revoked for this reason. What she has never mentioned, and which not one media outlet has ever noted, is the fact that it is Missouri's laws, which have been effective in removing this type of trash from the classroom, that are responsible for that number, and that we are compared to states where the laws are nowhere near as stringent.
In this state, all teachers and school employees are mandated reporters. If we know of, or suspect, any kind of illegal activity, we are required to report it and are breaking the law if we do not.
In other words, there were already laws on the books to handle the type of wrongdoing that Mrs. Cunningham indicated was rampant in our schools.
Yet this high profile bill, proffered by a conservative Republican who gives lip service to the idea that big government should stay out of our lives, goes much further than just a tightening of existing law.
As I noted in my last blog, it also prevents teachers from communicating with students or former students through Facebook or other social networking sites. For teachers who have successfully used Facebook an educational tool, and I am one of those, this out of left field portion of the bill will create an obstacle -- and not do one thing to make students safer. Sadly, those few teachers, who bring disgrace to the whole profession, have many, much easier, ways of reaching students than through social networking sites.
What it does is to label as truth the fiction Mrs. Cunningham has been propagating that children need to be protected from all classroom teachers, because those who take that job are not there to serve society -- but because the schools are full of sexual prey.
It is not just teachers who have been targeted by Mrs. Cunningham, with the willing complicity of every Democrat and Republican in the Missouri state legislature. The bill also makes it a crime for school board members to have sexual relations with students.
It already is a crime, though I have yet to hear of any school board member who has ever done this. Why would a legislator even consider such an occurrence?
As far as I can tell, no one, not the alleged watchdog media, nor Mrs. Cunningham's fellow legislators, asked her one question as to why she felt it necessary to demonize school board members, as well as classroom teachers.
Or why the bill makes it against the law for teachers to work on behalf of school board candidates.
If the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had researched its own files, it would have seen that Mrs. Cunningham was a public school board member in the early 1990s for one controversial three-year term. She was defeated for re-election after she was heavily criticized by fellow board members, teachers, and parents, for her efforts to push a religious club on students. Since that time, her four terms in the Missouri House and her first term in the Senate have been marked with one bill after another attempting to damage public schools and teachers.
That includes her unsuccessful attempt this year to eliminate teacher tenure and make it illegal to give teachers raises based on experience or advanced degrees. The same bill would have established a mandatory pay scale for all Missouri schools requiring each school to divide its faculty into four pay tiers, based on standardized test scores, with those on the top tier receiving 60 percent more than those on the third tier, and each of the bottom tiers receiving less.
All of this legislation, Mrs. Cunningham says, comes from her heartfelt desire to help the children of Missouri.
Could this be the same heartfelt desire that led her to propose SB 222, which would have eliminated child labor laws for those under age 14, saying that the laws infringed on parents' rights? Apparently, government regulations are never the answer for Mrs. Cunningham -- unless they make things difficult for the public schools and teachers she hates.
For now, Mrs. Cunningham will have to settle for one success, her effort to label teachers as the enemy of children, the sexual perverts waiting for that perfect moment to defile their students. Gov. Jay Nixon has indicated he will sign the legislation, and it appears he will not use his line item veto to eliminate any of its most nonsensical provisions.
As for Mrs. Cunningham, it appears she will have only one more year to push her hatred of public schools in the Missouri legislature. She has announced she is running for the Congressional seat currently held by Republican Todd Akin, in a district which has a distinct GOP majority.
It is a strong possibility that Jane Cunningham's war against teachers is about to go nationwide.
(Addendum: This blog was written a few days before a tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri, Sunday. For the past three days, Joplin School administrators and faculty have had the task of finding hundreds of students who have been displaced by the tornado and making sure they and their families are all right. Most of this has been done by teachers contacting students who were their Facebook friends. For some of them, it was the only way to make contact. I personally have messaged with students who were concerned about their friends, worried about injured family members, or just needed someone to talk to in an effort to make sense of this horrific tragedy. If the tornado had occurred after Aug. 28, the day Mrs. Cunningham's bill is scheduled to go into effect, we would still not know the fate of hundreds of our students.)
NOTE: Randy Turner is a Joplin, MO middle school English teacher. Before becoming a teacher, Turner was a journalist for two decades.