April 12, 2017

Retirement board renews push to halt pensions paid to teachers with child pornography convictions

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BOSTON — Possession of child pornography can ruin a teacher’s career but will not necessarily stop pension payments.

The Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System, which provides benefits to more than 63,000 retirees and survivors, hopes to change that.

The system’s executive director, Erika Glaster, asked the Legislature’s Public Service Committee Tuesday to once again report favorably on legislation (H 22) that would effectively prohibit teachers convicted of possession of child pornography from receiving their pension payments.

“Any conviction that shows a teacher’s desire to exploit children in such a despicable manner as child pornography, even if it occurred off-duty, is inconsistent with the professional standards of a teacher and the special obligation that all teachers have to protect children,” Glaster told the committee.

“A conviction for child pornography is certainly grounds for revocation of a teacher license and termination of employment.”

Glaster said a law is necessary because the Supreme Judicial Court in 2014 ruled that Ronald Garney could keep his benefits even though the former Amherst-Pelham school district ninth-grade science teacher pleaded guilty to 11 counts of purchasing and possessing child pornography.

“Although cognizant of the severity of the offenses of which Garney was convicted, we conclude that on the specific facts of this case, those offenses neither directly involved his position as a teacher nor contravened a particular law applicable to that position, and therefore did not come within the forfeiture provision,” former Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy wrote in the decision.

State law prohibits retirees from being eligible for a public pension “after final conviction of a criminal offense involving violation of the laws applicable to his office or position.”

Glaster’s bill would spell out that possession of child pornography would be applicable to a teacher’s position. She said the bill would be “prospective” and would not affect Garney.

The Public Service Committee reported favorably on the legislation last session and the House gave it initial approval in 2015 before its progress stopped.

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