Wisconsin bill creates felony for sexual misconduct in schools

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A bipartisan group of legislators wants teachers who sexually harass students go to prison and lose their licenses.

Democratic state Reps. Tip McGuire and Tod Ohnstad along with Republican Sens. Jesse James and John Spiros released a bill Wednesday that would make school employees, contractors or volunteers who engage in sexual misconduct against a pupil guilty of a felony punishable by up to 3 1/2 years in prison. Employees would automatically lose their licenses for at least six years if convicted.

The new bill defines sexual misconduct as sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or sexual contact that substantially affects a student’s academic performance or create a hostile or offensive school environment. Any police officer or county department that learns of such sexual misconduct must report the violations to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Wisconsin already has extensive laws against sexually assaulting students and exposing children to pornography. Existing statutes also prohibit child enticement, causing mental harm to a child and contributing to the delinquency of a child.

A federal law known as Title IX prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating against students on the basis of sex and explicitly states that sexual harassment qualifies as sexual discrimination. The law covers all public schools, but it doesn’t apply to private schools.

Minnesota and Illinois have banned sexual harassment in both public and private schools. But McGuire and Ohnstad said during a news conference that no existing Wisconsin law specifically outlaws sexual harassment in schools. They pointed to an October analysis from the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau that concluded that Wisconsin’s sexual harassment laws target the workplace, not schools.

Michael Pyritz, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Devin LaMahieu, was noncommittal about the bill’s prospects when reached via email Wednesday. Pyritz said the Senate would evaluate it like any bill, and “we will see where we are as the bill works its way through the legislative process.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ spokesperson, Angela Joyce, didn’t respond to an email message.

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