December 20, 2014

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Report: State disciplinary system fails to punish teachers

COLUMBUS — A state and local discipline system allows educators in the classroom despite misconduct that includes theft, assault and abuse of children, The Columbus Dispatch reported, based on a 10-month investigation. Teachers’ rights are often put first, districts don’t always communicate with the state and the Department of Education shields records of wrongdoing, the newspaper found.

Since 2000, Ohio disciplined 1,722 educators, with two-thirds of those sent back to their classrooms or allowed to take teaching jobs.

Theft was the most common reason for discipline with 405 cases, followed by assault or disorderly conduct with 341 cases, sexual misconduct with 292, and drugs and alcohol with 179.

The disciplinary cases represent about 1 percent of the more than 15,000 allegations of misconduct the Ohio Department of Education received since 2000.

For a four-part series that began Sunday, the Dispatch collected public records around the state, gathered data from other state educator discipline agencies and created a first-of-its-kind database of educator discipline in Ohio.

The newspaper also found:

  • At least 85 educators had sex with children.
  • Nearly one in four who emotionally, physically or sexually abused children still holds a teacher’s license.
  • At least 50 educators were allowed to keep their licenses even though they were disciplined for becoming too personal with students or doing something sexually inappropriate.

“If a teacher has done something sexual to a child … we can’t give them a second or third chance because kids are at risk,” said Charol Shakeshaft, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who has studied educator misconduct.

In Springfield, a tutor who had sex with a student was still licensed three years after his arrest. A Tuscarawas County teacher who married her special-education student went to prison for sexual battery. She kept her teaching certificate.

The cases against teachers represent a fraction of Ohio’s 155,000 licensed educators. The Education Department’s Adrian Allison said “99.999999 percent” of educators do an excellent job.

“All touching is bad,” said Allison, who until September headed the department’s Office of Professional Conduct. “The question is, ‘Can we prove the touching?’ ”

Penalties for teacher offenses range from a written warning to revocation of licenses. Since 2000, 819 cases resulted in consent agreements, which are written reprimands with conditions; 356 in revoked licenses; and 211 with written reprimands.

Districts often failed to report misconduct to other districts and the state, the newspaper found. Action on a teacher’s license cannot be taken unless state Education Department officials are alerted, which means problem teachers can find work in other districts.

In Cleveland, schools didn’t notify the state that they fired teachers for hitting students or putting them in danger. Columbus did not warn South-Western schools about a teacher who had impregnated one of his students, and the teacher was hired.

At least 20 educators and coaches — many convicted criminals — apparently have escaped the state’s detection, the Dispatch reported. A Columbus charter-school teacher who had sex with a 13-year-old girl and a Springfield teacher who raped young girls still hold teaching licenses.

A law that took effect earlier this year requires districts to report misconduct to the state and requires new background checks on teachers renewing their licenses. Districts must keep documents related to discipline in a teacher’s publicly available personnel file.

The state has kept 246 discipline cases secret, even from parents and schools. The newspaper found that at least 50 of those cases involved crimes against children. The department will not reveal details about a Cleveland tutor who molested autistic boys or about a Reynoldsburg teacher imprisoned for having sex with a 12-year-old boy at school.

On some cases the state blacked out or erased information. The Education Department maintains that various state and federal laws prevent the release of certain types of information.

Ohio law also shields information about disciplined teachers allowed to keep their license, prohibiting the release of complaints and evidence. Only the final outcome — the written reprimand that summarizes the misconduct — is public.