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Predators: Legislation needed to protect children

Yet another institution entrusted with the well being of our most vulnerable citizens — kids — appears to be more interested in protecting predators than those on whom they prey.

Now lawmakers may have to force West Virginia’s public education establishment to do the right thing, after it appears it had no desire to do so, on its own.

Late last year, it was learned our state exported a predator to Arizona.

Pete Cheesebrough had been an assistant principal at University High School in Morgantown. In 2017, he was investigated after a complaint he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a student. At one point, while in Cheesebrough’s car, the two kissed.

Yet it was not until mid-2018 — after Cheesebrough had taken a new job in Arizona — that he was disciplined. Even then, state school Superintendent Steve Paine suspended Cheesebrough’s school administration certificate only temporarily.

Paine admitted he and others involved in the investigation did not want to affect Cheesebrough adversely in his new job. It was important to them to protect this man from the consequences of his actions.

When Arizona officials became aware of the situation last year, they rightly fired him from his teaching job there.

Look again at the situation. Despite clearly inappropriate behavior with a student, Cheesebrough was slapped on the wrist and allowed to go elsewhere to take another public school job. Never mind about the peace of mind of his victim here, or the safety of potential victims in new locations.

West Virginia legislators are working on a bill now — HB 4378 — that would mandate more serious reaction to such cases. The measure was approved 98-0 by the House of Delegates.

If enacted, HB 4378 would mandate that any educator guilty of sexual conduct with a student or other minor, or found to have been “grooming” a student or minor for such activity, must have his or her professional license revoked for at least five years. The same penalty would result from acts of cruelty or placing students in dangerous situations.

State senators should approve the bill, too. Demanding that education officials punish predators — and protect other jurisdictions from them –should not have to be written into the law. Apparently, however, such a mandate is required.

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