When parents send their sons and daughters to school, they trust teachers and administrators will protect the students.
Far too often, however, those same adults are using their positions to abuse children, according to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.
"Every day seems to bring a new report of a child robbed of his or her innocence by someone they should've been able to trust, someone their parents told them to obey," he said.
To hear the Pennsylvania Republican describe it, there's an epidemic of teacher-on-student assault — and his Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act is the cure.
It would require all school employees and contractors who have contact with students to receive periodic state and federal background checks using four databases, including child abuse and neglect registries, the fingerprint identification system of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Sex Offender Registry.
Those with dirty records could be fired, and the bill would prevent schools from recommending or transferring an alleged sexual predator to another school.
Toomey would like the bill to be law before the start of the upcoming school year. Despite bipartisan support in the Senate and approval of a House version, however, it has yet to clear the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
So far this year, 275 teachers nationwide have been arrested for sexual misconduct — and that's reason enough to move his legislation to the full Senate for a vote, Toomey said.
"That number should give us all pause. That's 275 tragedies," he told his Senate colleagues Thursday. "We shouldn't let a new school year begin ... without doing something about this shameful number and without making sure that this number doesn't continue to grow."
While we support Toomey's effort, we believe it's important to keep the issue in perspective:
There were 3.3 million people teaching full time in U.S. schools last year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The 275 bad apples Toomey cited represent .009 percent of the entire bunch, meaning all but a small fraction of teachers are worthy of the trust we put in them.
That said, we agree a single case is one too many.
More than a dozen of the teachers arrested this year are from Pennsylvania, including Matthew Puterbaugh, a former Dover Area School District music teacher who faces trial on three cases in York County.
That's despite safeguards already in place.
Pennsylvania mandates state and federal criminal background checks for new teachers, and three years ago required all current employees to fill out forms disclosing arrests or convictions of serious crimes.
Apparently, though, it's not enough to "check and forget."
Records can fall through the cracks, and teachers, administrators and other school employees can commit offenses after they're hired.
Toomey's bill would add the vigilance necessary to remove these employees from their positions of trust — and hopefully prevent them from ever holding another one.