Proposed Bill Would Open Juvenile Criminal Records To Wisconsin School Officials

Jan 12, 2018

State lawmakers are considering a bill, they say, would help make schools safer -- for teachers. The bill would alert schools when students have a run-in with the law, but some teachers say the proposal would do more harm than good.

The Teacher Protection Act seeks to open juvenile criminal records to school officials. Currently, all juvenile records are confidential, but the proposal would allow teachers access the files. 

Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt explains why he thinks his bill would benefit teachers.
Credit WisconsinEye

Republican Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt is the author and spoke during a public hearing of the Assembly Judiciary Committee in Madison Thursday.

He said, "When you have students who have behavioral struggles and it sometimes manifests in violence against other students and teachers, it allows that teacher to know kind of what those trigger mechanisms are with that student to try and avoid those situations and if they occur what sort of things have been done to make this successful. You aren’t going to know those things if you don’t have access to those records."

His bill would require law enforcement to notify a school within 24 hours of arresting a student for a violent crime. School administrators would be required to notify teachers of a student’s record before the student returns to class and school leaders would be required to notify police within 24 hours, if a student assaults someone on school grounds.

David W. Olien, an administrator in the University of Wisconsin System who spoke at the hearing, said Thiesfedlt’s bill is doing the public a favor by raising the issue of school violence. "The problem is that neither political party in this state has taken seriously the issue of violence in our schools. Violence in our schools did not begin one year ago, five years ago, it has been going on for nearly half a century."

Despite support from people such as Olien, the bill also has its opponents.

Several who spoke claim the bill would violate federal laws of confidentiality. They added that the bill might actually put students at a disadvantage.

Joanne Juhnke, representing Wisconsin Family Ties, spoke at a news conference in opposition of the Teacher Protection Act.
Credit WisconsinEye

Joanne Juhnke is the policy director of Wisconsin Family Ties. The organization held a news conference before the hearing to criticize the bill. "Make no mistake. [This] is a stunning example of proposing to more of the same thing and expecting a different result. This bill would elevate ineffective, punitive responses that are already being overused on our most vulnerable students. Students with mental health challenges, students of color, students with disabilities in general."

The future of the bill is uncertain. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he agrees that legislators should address student discipline, but he’s unsure whether this particular proposal is the way to go.

Audio and photos courtesy of WisconsinEye.