EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Right now under Rhode Island law, if a teacher has sex with a student who is 16 or 17 years old, no crime has been committed unless force or coercion was involved.
Now a proposed bill is looking to change that by adding a clause to third-degree sexual assault, making it illegal for school employees to have sex with students.
James Parisi of of the Rhode Island Federation of Teacher and Healthcare Professionals said his union opposes the measure.
“Quite honestly we don’t have an issue generally with the subject matter of this bill,” Parisi said in testiomy. “Our objection is that teachers and school employees are being singled out.”
Several states have similar laws and Rhode Island is one of 30 states where the age of consent is 16 years old.
Former educator Erika Sanzi, now an education blogger, testified in favor of the bill. During a taping of Dan Yorke State of Mind, she said Massachusettes and Rhode Island are the only states in New England without laws that protect students once they are 16.
“All personnel records are confidential, so when my kid’s teacher is fired for having sex with a student, I don’t get to know about that,” Sanzi said. “If they don’t lose their state license they can get a job in another district. And if they do lose their state license, they can go to any other state and do the same thing.”
The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also opposed the bill, arguing in written testimony that singling out teachers in this way is “arbitrary.”
Parisi agreed. “We don’t understand why the bill doesn’t cover store managers or clergy.” he said. “Why doesn’t the bill cover volunteers in community organizations? And no disrespect, why doesn’t it cover the legislature?”
Sanzi disagreed, saying: “Everybody should be shouting from the rooftops it is not acceptable for people in positions of authority to be having sexual relations with the children in their care, even when they turn 16.”