Legislation giving school districts the authority not to hire an employee if he or she has been convicted of a crime, regardless of its nature, was approved by the Committee on Education Tuesday.
The bill, proposed by State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, was passed by the committee with a 7-4 vote, according to a statement from Thiesfeldt.
Under current law, educational agencies are prohibited from choosing not to hire an employee based on a past criminal record, unless the individual was previously convicted of a felony, misdemeanor or other offense that is relatable to the circumstances of the job, according to a statement from the Legislative Reference Bureau.
Once the new bill is instated, school boards will have more power to hire, or turn away, former convicts based on their own desires, whether or not the past crime was related to the nature of their job.
In a previous statement, Thiesfeldt, who was a teacher for 21 years, said the bill protects students in the state from potentially harmful employees.
“Parents expect that their children will be safe in school,” Thiesfeldt said in the statement. “We must ensure that is a reality.”
Common Cause of Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said he believes this type of discrimination is entirely unfair and establishes another road block for released convicts trying to reassert themselves in society.
“[This bill] puts a barrier on these people who are struggling to make a better life for themselves,” Heck said.
Heck said having people who come from different backgrounds in a school environment may even be a valuable source for the students to learn from.
Thiesfeldt and Darling originally designed the proposal with the intention of allowing schools the extra leverage needed to keep their faculty and students safe without having to worry about discrimination laws being upheld or frivolous lawsuits being ?led regarding these discrimination laws, Thiesfeldt said in the statement.
The statement noted a case in the Milwaukee school system in 2005 in which a employee who was previously convicted of burning a child with hot grease was fired. The school system was forced to rehire the employee after he appealed his case to the state. The bill would attempt to prevent these type of cases, Darling said in the statement.
“Child safety is a top priority … we cannot be too cautious when it comes to protecting our children,” Darling said in the statement.
Darling, like Thiesfeldt, is also a former teacher.
Heck said school boards already have the ability to make independent hiring decisions and the legislation seemed unnecessary.
He said the proposed legislation unfairly outcasts a group often mistreated by the public at large.
“It seems like putting legislation on this is easy because most people will agree that they do not want convicts in their schools, but everyone should be given a change once they have paid his or her debt to society and rehabilitated themselves,” Heck said.