Inappropriate Teaching: Who Needs To Know?

Monday, May 13th 2013, 1:12 pm
By: News 9

Educators turned child rapists, molesters, even porn collectors, and still holding a license to teach.

Relatively speaking, the cases are rare. And yet some believe instances of teachers engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with students would be even more rare, if Oklahoma's education system did a better job of tracking them.

More often than not, the sex scandals are kept as quiet as possible, by school districts that don't want the negative publicity, and by victims' families hoping to protect a loved one from further humiliation.

The result is that bad teachers are sometimes able to slip under the radar, and take their threatening thoughts and actions from one school district to another. The State Department of Education -- the agency with the power to revoke a teaching certification -- doesn't intervene, because the incidents are not reported to them.

In fact, the only way the state learns about these cases, officials acknowledge, is through media reports.

"We will read about a case in the newspaper, or we will see a story run on the evening news," said Kim Richey, general counsel for SDE. "Only after that are we able to identify that perhaps this is a situation that we may need to take to the Board for specific action."

Richey and others are beginning to speak out, as they see what they believe is an increase in the number of these incidents, and thus an increased threat to students.

Still, those with personal connections to the cases, generally, remain reluctant to talk about them, due to the extremely sensitive nature of the subject matter.

"It seems to be happening more and more these days," said one man, who did agree to talk -- but only on condition of anonymity -- about a case in Piedmont he knows well.

"It was told to one of the teachers that the wrestling coach was drinking one night when they had an affair," the man recalled.

The affair -- between the coach and a female student -- was reported to school authorities, investigated by the police, and the coach was convicted of 2nd degree rape. The same coach, it turned out, had been investigated just a few years prior for engaging in a sexual relationship with a student in Clinton, Oklahoma.

"I think this was a clear cut case where the guy had issues at one school," the confidential informant explained, "It wasn't proven; he was allowed to resign, and so he goes somewhere else."

That man is one of 31 teachers that our investigation discovered lost their teaching license due to inappropriate sexual relationships with students in the last four years.

9 investigates also identified another 14, who still have a teaching license after being arrested for sex crimes involving students. And those familiar with the situation say it's likely there are many more.

"Absolutely," said SDE attorney Richey, "I think that's certainly a possibility."

Richey says it's frustrating that school districts are not required to report cases of sexual misconduct to the state.

"Not only is there not a framework for us to find out about these cases," Richey lamented, "but even once an allegation has been made, there's very little we can do."

Under current law, the state cannot employ investigators to look into complaints against teachers.

In general, at the state level, there is a dearth of information and, thus, a lack of transparency on this issue; this became clear, as we pushed, for months, for access to information on sexual misconduct cases involving teachers.

Perhaps less pronounced, but more vexing, is the lack of transparency at the district level, where there is no consistent practice of tracking these incidents.

We submitted freedom of information requests to 20 school districts across the state. With some effort, several were able to confirm cases where sexual allegations were made against teachers in the last four years. A few admitted they do not keep record of complaints -- with one district even saying it destroyed records in cases where allegations were not substantiated.

"This is truly a local issue that affects the entire state," remarked state school board member Amy Ford.

Ford was shocked to discover what she feels is an alarming accountability gap -- one that makes it possible for an accused teacher to resign in one district, and then go work in another.

"We need to know why that individual was asked to resign," Ford stated, "because that individual should not move twenty miles down the road and start teaching another group of students."

Ford brought the issue to the attention of state lawmakers, and there is legislation, SB 283, now awaiting only the Governor's signature, that would, for the first time, require reporting of these cases to SDE, under certain circumstances.

Clinton schools Superintendent Kevin Himes was not around when his district forced the coach to resign -- the same coach who would later be convicted in Piedmont.

"You hate it," said Himes. "You never want it to happen two or three times."

But Himes says, as much as district administrators try to make every decision for students, they have to remember that teachers also have rights. His predecessors, therefore, would have been limited in what they could have told another district looking to hire the teacher-coach.

"Realistically, under current policies and procedures," Himes explained, "I'm not sure there's anything else the district could have done."

That may also change. If SB 536 is passed into law, a school district would now be able to disclose information about a current or former employee to another district looking to hire that person.

Many of those who have been personally involved in these cases believe changes to the system need to happen now.

"It's just hard to believe, because it couldn't happen in our town," warned the man connected to the Piedmont case. "We'll, it can happen anywhere."

Click here to see other legislation intended to address this situation.

We reached out to 20 school districts across the state, requesting that they let us know how many times in the last five years there were serious allegations of a teacher having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student -- serious enough that an investigation was conducted. Here are the responses:

Ada -- 0

Ardmore -- 0

Broken Arrow -- 0

Claremore -- 0

Enid -- 2

Jenkins --0

Lawton -- 1

Mid-Del -- 1

Millwood -- 2

Moore -- 10

Muskogee -- 0

Norman -- 0

Oklahoma City -- 9

Ponca City -- 0

Putnam City -- 2

Sand Springs -- 3

Stroud -- 0

Tulsa -- does not track

Union -- 5

Western Heights -- did not respond