LINCOLN — School officials would have 24 hours to inform police of sexual misconduct allegations under a measure proposed Friday in the Nebraska Legislature.
Omaha Sen. Brenda Council proposed the idea in response to controversy over the initial lack of reporting by Omaha school officials of sexual misconduct allegations against a middle school teacher. Council is a former Omaha school board member.
Her bill would require a report whether or not the allegations were substantiated.
Council said her intent is to "remove any doubt" about whether such allegations should be reported, as is the case in other states.
"It's the job of law enforcement to determine if there's any merit to such allegations," she said.
Omaha Public Schools officials have said they didn't notify police immediately because the allegations against the Nathan Hale teacher were investigated internally. Officials didn't feel they had credible evidence to cause suspicion, they said.
The district's current policy is to make a report only after a determination that there is a "reasonable cause to believe" that abuse occurred. That would require at least some initial investigation before reporting.
In May, the school board voted against changing the policy.
But Janice Garnett, OPS assistant superintendent for human resources, said Friday that the district wholeheartedly supports Council's move to change the policy.
The bill still would allow schools to investigate to determine if a teacher or worker should be fired or disciplined.
"We feel that we've always reported promptly," Garnett said. "We don't mind turning it over to law enforcement, but we appreciate that we can investigate."
School board member Justin Wayne said Council's bill would not have been necessary if the board had agreed with him and another board member last May and changed the policy.
Omaha police began investigating the Nathan Hale case after a parent contacted state officials in October 2010. Some allegations went back as far as 2008.
The teacher, Shad Knutson, 35, now faces seven felony charges involving five students, who were 13 or 14 years old.
Knutson, who was fired as a social studies teacher, allegedly used hundreds of phone calls and text messages to "groom" the teens. He is accused of fondling girls' breasts, asking one to send him a cellphone photo of her breasts and of having one girl kiss and touch him.
An attorney for OPS previously defended district administrators' actions, saying they never were advised by a student or parent that Knutson sexually assaulted or had sexual contact with a student.
Other bills introduced Friday would:
» Give discretion to cities to allow sales of alcohol before noon on Sundays.
» Ban discrimination by employers against job seekers who are currently unemployed. Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar said he is unaware of this happening in Nebraska, but in other states applicants have been denied job interviews simply because they are out of work.
» Require the State Board of Education to establish by August an accountability system to measure the performance of individual public schools by such factors as graduation rates and student improvement. This state accountability system would be separate from a federal grading of schools and would provide more detail on performance.
» Attempt to boost population in rural counties that have lost 5 percent or more of their populations. People who moved to those counties from outside Nebraska could receive up to $1,500 a year, via a refundable income tax credit, from the state. A similar law was passed in Kansas.
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