Gov. Roy Cooper signs bill to increase penalties for sex offenses against students
Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday signed into law House Bill 142, which increases penalties for teachers who commit sex offenses against students and school leaders who fail to report such misconduct.
House Bill 142 was backed by Superintendent Catherine Truitt. The superintendent told lawmakers in March that since 2016, there have been 124 cases of sexual misconduct involving students that led to a teacher license revocation, suspension or surrender.
Under the law, school personnel who engage in sex with students can be charged with a class G felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 47 months in prison. Taking indecent liberties with a student had been a Class I felony in North Carolina, which is punishable for up to 24 months in prison.
School leaders who fail to report offenses can now be charged with a Class I felony. If school leaders know, have reason to believe or have notice of a complaint that an employee has engaged in misconduct that results in dismissal, disciplinary action or resignation, they must report the misconduct to the State Board of Education within five days of the personnel action.
“If the employee resigns within 30 days of a complaint or during an ongoing investigation of a complaint, the misconduct is presumed to have resulted in the resignation,” the law states.
Teachers and other school personnel can charged for engaging in sexual activity with recent high school graduates up to six months after the former student finishes school under the new law.
“It addresses grooming where, unfortunately, someone that is out to do bad will purposefully engage in a student in the attempt to get them groomed to the point that when they exit the school, then a relationship could begin,” State Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican and bill sponsor, told colleagues in March.
Educators who engage in sexual misconduct with students risk forfeiture of retirement benefits under the law.
The law requires schools to show students in grades 6-12 videos that explain the warning signs of abuse or neglect. Students would also received instruction in how to confidentially report such incidents.