COLUMBUS School superintendents, and even prosecutors, are failing to report teacher misconduct to the state and should be penalized, Ohio education officials told a legislative panel Tuesday.
The lack of teeth in a new law aimed at cracking down on misbehaving teachers was one of the explanations they gave members of the House Education Committee for a pattern of unchecked disciplinary problems recently reported by The Columbus Dispatch.
“I take the work of protecting children and creating safe classrooms very seriously, as does the state Board of Education,” said Susan Tave Zelman, superintendent of public instruction in Ohio. “One child put in harm’s way is one too many.”
The newspaper reported widespread disciplinary problems, including abuse of children, assault and theft, among working teachers. It also revealed that Zelman’s department was aware of fewer than 22 percent of the 189 disciplinary investigations conducted last year by Ohio’s 10 largest school districts.
An investigation published later by The Associated Press found more than 2,500 sexual misconduct cases nationwide over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic. That number represents a small fraction of the 3 million public school teachers nationwide, but still adds up to three cases for every school day.
In addition, other laws play a role in the problem, he said.
One Ohio law identifies criminal offenses that disqualify people from teaching — but doesn’t apply those prohibitions to teachers currently in the classroom. Another law specifically prohibits public disclosure of teacher disciplinary files. A third makes it a crime for instances of child abuse to be revealed.