Op/Ed: Keep child predators out of Pa.’s classrooms

Backs federal legislation to enforce background checks, sharing of data across states

By Thomas P. Hogan, Chester County District Attorney


Thomas P. Hogan

Last year, news broke that the Coatesville Area School District had hired multiple convicted felons and entrusted the safety and care of children to such criminals. For example, Victor Ford’s convictions for multiple state and federal felonies did not stop him from being hired as a special education classroom aide and coach. One year into his employment, Ford was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a young girl, and later was convicted of corruption of minors for his conduct.

As prosecutors, we work day in and day out to protect our children from sexual predators in the classroom. But we cannot do it alone.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has acted and strengthened our state child protection laws. Specifically, the General Assembly passed a bill which bans the practice of “passing the trash” within state boundaries. “Passing the trash” is the reprehensible practice of quietly dismissing or allowing a school employee suspected of a sexual crime to resign, while still providing a letter of recommendation and failing to alert other schools to the employee’s misconduct. 

However, this legislation does nothing to stop other states from “passing their trash” to Pennsylvania. The only way to stop this is with federal legislation. Luckily, one of our own United States Senators, Pat Toomey, is leading the charge to add this protection for our children.

Senator Toomey has introduced a bipartisan bill, the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act, to prevent abusers from reaching children

in the first place. In addition to banning the dangerous practice of “passing the trash” from outside states into Pennsylvania, Senator Toomey’s bill requires any school receiving federal funds to perform background checks on all employees and contractors who have unsupervised access to children. Amazingly, 12 states do not require background checks for these coaches, teachers’ aides, and substitute teachers who are often hired as contractors and who have virtually unfettered access to vulnerable children. The background checks must be thorough, covering two state and two federal databases, and must be periodically updated. Many states do not check the FBI’s national database, and Pennsylvania’s background checks do not include the National Sex Offender Registry. Under Senator Toomey’s bipartisan legislation, a school may not hire a person if he or she has committed certain crimes, including any sexual or violent crime against a child.

Senator Toomey’s bill directly reflects some of the recommendations that the Chester County District Attorney’s Office made in the Coatesville Area School District Grand Jury Report about preventing criminals from gaining access to our children. Moreover, these requirements are supported by prosecutors across Pennsylvania as a common sense way to protect kids from sexual predators and other criminals.

Senator Toomey’s bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously during the last Congress. We urge the United States Senate to follow suit, and provide our children the protection they need and deserve.

Our children deserve to be safe from sexual assault, whether they are at school or at home. Together, we can make it happen.

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  1. TE Resident says:

    Thank-you Tom Hogan. Many districts, including Unionville Chaddsford and TE have embraced outsourcing of aides and paras, special education employees, as a way to save money. The savings, (if any) of this action are negligible when considering the risk.

  2. Dann Trammel says:

    It’s a shame that it takes such extreme circumstances to bring attention to something that is so easily and cheaply avoidable. Database searches and LiveScans are nothing more than dropping a pebble in the ocean. But they are conducted because of the relative “low-cost.” Much more in-depth and encompassing searches are available for not much more, if any more money than what’s currently being done. Honestly, no “cost objections” should preclude children from being safe.

    Dann Trammel
    Employer’s Investigative Services

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