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Protecting children from felons in school



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Kedzie (click for larger version)
November 09, 2011 | 07:23 AM
In 1995, officials at a Wisconsin school discovered one of its' employees had been convicted of a felony for throwing hot grease on a child. When they learned of the employee's conviction and the reason for the felony, the employee was fired and the school rejected a request to rehire the individual. However, the state's Labor and Industry Review Commission ruled the firing was discriminatory, per Wisconsin's Fair Employment Act, and in effect, required the school to rehire the felon.

Wisconsin law prohibits schools from taking into consideration a person's felon history when hiring, unless the felony substantially relates to the job. In essence, felons are a protected class. While school officials believed the conviction did relate to the job, the commission believed otherwise and said the school unlawfully refused to rehire the felon based upon his conviction record.

In its' ruling, the commission said, "the Legislature did not choose to exempt schools from the conviction record provisions of the Fair Employment Act." Wisconsin's Fair Employment law states it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees and job applicants based on age, color, disability, marital status, military status, pregnancy or childbirth, race, sex, and other factors, including arrest and conviction records. The purpose of the law is to protect the rights of people to seek and obtain employment free from unlawful discrimination.

However, Wisconsin is one of only a few states that shield those having a criminal history as a protected group. When it comes to protecting school children, schools officials should have every tool available to them, including flexibility in their hiring and firing decisions. Many of us in the Legislature agree that schools should be allowed to take into account a person's felony history.

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For years, legislation has been offered and debated to allow schools to use caution when deciding whether to hire a felon, but has routinely been blocked by partisan disagreements. This session, Senate Bill 86 has been introduced, which clarifies a school district's decision to refuse to hire or terminate an individual based on a felony conviction record is no longer a component of employment discrimination.

The bill removes felons from the list of factors that schools cannot discriminate against. Schools would still be allowed to hire a felon, should they choose to do so, and likewise, a person with a felony record would be allowed to apply for any position within the school. Senate Bill 86 passed both Houses of the Legislature and now awaits the Governor's signature.

School district officials have a responsibility to protect their students and should be able to decide who will or will not work in their school. Further, they should not have to worry about being sued if they decide a person should not work in their school, or if termination from employment is an appropriate action based on a felonious past. The 'Felons in Schools' bill is a common-sense measure to protect school districts, local taxpayers, and most importantly, our children.

Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or online at www.senatorkedzie.com.

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