DENVER -- Colorado schools will now be required to notify parents and families when teachers and other school employees are charged with serious crimes.
Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 18-1269 into law Tuesday morning. The new law requires schools notify parents either by mail or electronically of the arrests of employees whose jobs put them in contact with children who are charged with certain serious crimes including sexual assault.
“Information is power. And parents need to have information so they can be powerful in the protection of their children, and that's what this bill does. It makes it a statewide standard that districts must notify in the cases of serious threats to children,” said bill sponsor Rep. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument.)
Rep. Lundeen and his co-sponsors proposed the legislation after a series of Contact7 investigations entitled “Parents in the Dark” revealed parents in several school districts were not initially notified about the arrests of teachers and school employees accused of sexually abusing students.
Many districts told Contact7 they had no written policies at all for parental notification of arrests, with most districts saying they made such decisions on a case-by-case basis.
“What's key is, parents won't be left in the dark anymore. They have a right to know, and this bill gives them the opportunity to know,” said Senator Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), another of the bill’s sponsors. “You can no longer sweep inappropriate behavior under the rug. That will not take place anymore in our state.”
In one case, the Cherry Creek School District told Contact7 Investigates it did not notify parents about the arrest of school security guard Broderick Lundie for months because the district believed he had only one student victim. But a police report obtained by Contact7 Investigates showed Aurora police and the school were aware of allegations against Lundie a year before his arrest.
Schools are now required to send notifications of such arrests within two school days after the formal filing of charges at an employee’s preliminary hearing.
Rep. Lundeen sat on the Colorado State Board of Education when the board failed in its attempt to require schools to notify parents of arrests years ago.
“Back in 2011 we started on this journey, and we've been working on this since that time. The state board passed a rule [but] it was determined that that was outside of the authority of the state board. We needed a law. And now many years later, seven years later, we finally have the law,” said Lundeen.
The current board supported the new legislation unanimously, according to board member Steve Durham.
“I believe it will make a significant difference,” Durham said.
Under the new law, schools will also be required to notify parents of the ultimate resolution of a case, whether the employee is convicted or acquitted, within two school days of the court hearing.
The bill does allow schools to delay notification if requested by law enforcement.
The law also applies to former employees who worked directly with children who are arrested within one year of their departure from the school.
In several incidents uncovered by Contact7 Investigates, employees resigned while police were investigating the sex crimes the employees were eventually convicted of committing. In one case, police did not notify the district of a former teacher’s arrest because he no longer worked there, so many parents did not learn of his arrest until Denver7 reported on his sentencing.
“Sunlight is a spectacular disinfectant, and that's exactly what the problem was. This was a dank, dirty, underbelly of what was happening. Not in all districts, but in some districts, where they were hiding the ball. They were not releasing information. Enterprising reporters like yourself were getting ahead of the districts in providing critical information that parents need in order to make sure that their children are protected,” Lundeen said.