Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham Signs Legislation Protecting New Mexico Students From Sexual Abuse

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. Post file photo

From New Mexico House Democrats:

SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday signed House Bill 128, legislation protecting students in New Mexico from sexual and ethical misconduct by teachers and school employees. 

Sponsored by Rep. Debra M. Sariñana (D-Albq.), Rep. Christine Trujillo (D-Albq.), Rep. Susan Herrera (D-Embudo), Rep. Joy Garratt (D-Albq.) and Rep. Marian Matthews (D-Albq.), House Bill 128 enacts an extensive set of both preventative and responsive measures to address ethical and sexual misconduct in New Mexico’s public schools. Under HB 128, abusers who have been employed in the public school system will no longer be able to conceal their misconduct by leaving one job and beginning another.     

The legislation contains top-to-bottom reforms. Specifically, HB 128 does the following:   

Requires prospective school employees, volunteers, and contractors to report their background and previous ethical or sexual misconduct and requires former employers to share this information with prospective employers.

  • Mandates that all school personnel report instances of child abuse and neglect requires them to undergo training on the detection and reporting of these issues, and expands the circumstances in which an official report must be filed.  
  • Amends the School Personnel Act to allow superintendents and governing school bodies to publicly disclose termination decisions, and record termination and appeal hearings.   
  • Facilitates more cross-agency communication among the Public Education Department (PED), the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD), and law enforcement divisions related to abuse and misconduct.
  • Requires PED to maintain a list, updated monthly, of persons reported for ethical misconduct, and provide this list to school districts upon request.
  • Requires school boards to track reports of child abuse (while protecting the identity of victims) and allows PED to take licensure action against personnel who fail to report child abuse, neglect, or ethical misconduct as required.
  • Allows regional educational cooperatives to help school districts investigate allegations of misconduct.

“The reality that perpetrators have moved from victim to victim and school to school is unacceptable,” Rep. Sariñana said. “House Bill 128 institutes the top-to-bottom accountability we need so this type of utterly atrocious and criminal behavior will not ever be swept under the rug. I am grateful to my colleagues in the legislature for taking action on this urgent reform and for the Governor’s signature today. This bill will lead to safer schools.”    

“It’s absolutely devastating to know one in 10 children in the United States is sexually abused by school employees by the time they graduate from high school,” Rep. Herrera said. “This is a frightening systemic problem that requires serious action. We’re fortunate to have a legislature and governor today that recognizes the severity of this problem and is now signing into law preventative measures to prevent this abuse and hold abusers accountable and remove them.” 

“Someone with a record of abuse should never be allowed to simply leave one school and begin teaching at another,” Rep. Garratt said. “The reality that this has happened in New Mexico isn’t a loophole, it’s inexcusable. We must empower and equip every school employee with the tools and training to stop the abuse and require that those with the knowledge of a situation of misconduct report it and are listened to. With this bill’s signature, we’re saying ‘enough’ and holding abusers accountable.”

“The safety of New Mexico’s children depends on the proper vetting of school employees,” Rep. Matthews said.  “HB 128 ensures that any prior issues with a candidate are disclosed in their records, preventing abusers from slipping through the cracks. It brings a higher level of oversight and monitoring to PED and puts in place procedures that will help our schools carry out investigations of misconduct.”

House Bill 128 is based on recommendations from the PED task force on school ethical misconduct, required by a measure passed in the 2019 session. Under the legislation, allegations found to be false or unsubstantiated are not required to be disclosed.

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