Public Education Center should support student-safety bill

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This week, the Montana Public Education Center sent a representative to the Montana Senate Education Committee to oppose student safety legislation which has received bipartisan support. The specific bill is Senate Bill 132, the Student Safety Accountability Act, which the Office of Public Instruction requested, and Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, is carrying.

This common-sense legislation recognizes that students are a protected class and that school officials are in a position of trust over them. This position of trust and authority over students creates an unequal balance of power in a relationship in which students cannot meaningfully consent to sexual contact. Why would Montana’s statewide education associations oppose this most basic proposal to remove predators from classrooms?

Montana Public Education Center is a statewide organization that represents the Montana Federation of Public Employees, the Montana School Boards Association, the School Administrators of Montana, the Montana Quality Education Coalition, the Montana Rural Education Association, and the Montana Association of School Business Officials. It is my hope that these state associations represent their local students and members.

The opposition and proposed amendments by Montana Public Education Center threaten Senate Bill 132 by arbitrarily broadening its scope beyond the language that Office of Public Instruction and Department of Justice experts have carefully crafted during the course of several months.

Senate Bill 132 addresses a root cause of sexual misconduct in schools by criminalizing the actions of predators. This legislation specifically protects from prosecution peer-to-peer relationships to ensure that students and those young adults who recently graduated are not branded as criminals for dating their peers. Montana Public Education Center’s proposed amendments jeopardize the passage of this crucial legislation and, if implemented, could lead to the prosecution of students and young adults for harmless relationships.

I would challenge Montana Public Education Center and its member organizations to self-examine who they represent this legislative session. The answer should be Montana’s students.

­—Elsie Arntzen is Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction

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