Pa. bill targets sex-abuse disclosure rules for schools

Posted: April 04, 2014

Nationally, the practice is known as "passing the trash" - when a school district allows an employee accused of sexual misconduct to resign quietly and might even offer a reference for a job elsewhere.

On Wednesday, Pennsylvania legislators took a step toward making the state one of the few in the nation to require the disclosure of sexual-abuse allegations as part of the application process for school-related jobs.

The legislation aims to prevent cases such as the one involving Eric Romig, a basketball coach at a private school in Bucks County who, authorities said, was allowed to leave for "medical reasons" in 2009 after he propositioned girls on his team. Romig later coached softball at a Bucks County public high school and was arrested last fall for having sex with a player.

If the bill becomes law, potential school employees would have to disclose on a state form any reports of sexual misconduct in their employment histories. And schools would have to reveal such reports to any educational institution that inquires about a potential employee.

Most schools have shared such information voluntarily, but not all have, nor are they required to do so.

The Pennsylvania proposal would not trump existing confidentiality agreements between employees and schools - only future agreements - thus allowing at least some such reports to remain secret.

Confidentiality agreements "occur more often than you would think," said Chester Kent, a former school administrator and expert witness in sexual-assault cases. "And you don't know about them until they resurface in another situation or in another state."

The legislation was introduced by Rep. David Maloney (R., Berks), passed unanimously, and sent to the Senate, where a similar proposal, authored by Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Phila.), was unanimously approved in June. Lawmakers said they expect the proposal to become law in one form or another in the near future.

"The longer we wait, the worse it gets," Maloney said in a statement.

Missouri and Oregon are believed to be the only states to have enacted their own "pass the trash" laws, according to Terri Miller, president of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME), a Nevada-based organization.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and in the House by Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.).

The proposals by Fitzpatrick and Williams were inspired by the story of Edgar Freidrichs, a former teacher at Prospect Park Elementary School in Delaware County's Interboro School District.

Freidrichs, according to court documents, was a known child molester at the school in the 1960s and 1970s before taking a teaching job in West Virginia. In the 1990s, as an elementary school principal, he sexually assaulted and murdered one boy, Jeremy Bell, and molested two others from his school. The parents of one of those boys sued the Interboro School District in federal court in 2005, claiming the district failed to warn the school in West Virginia of Freidrichs' pedophilia and wrote a letter of recommendation for him. The case was settled.

It's hard to gauge the impact of the laws in Missouri and Oregon, said Lisa Freiley, staff counsel for the Oregon School Boards Association.

"It's almost like saying we implemented fireproof standards on all of our buildings and we've only had five fires," she said. "We can't count what didn't happen."

Romig, the Bucks County coach, had made advances toward two of his basketball players at Faith Christian Academy in Sellersville in 2008 and 2009 according to Jennifer Schorn, chief of the Bucks County District Attorney Office's major crimes division. Faith Christian officials learned about the accusations but failed to report them, according to Schorn. The school did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Romig then got a job coaching softball at Pennridge High School in Perkasie, Bucks County. Romig, 36, had sex with a 16-year-old player, and traded explicit videos and photos with her last year. He pleaded guilty in January and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 22. He faces up to 20 months in jail.


bfinley@phillynews.com

610-313-8118

@Ben_Finley

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