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State takes action in wake of teacher misconduct

Every child deserves to have a positive educational experience, one that not only provides them with the tools necessary to succeed in the workplace, but helps build a foundation of discipline, hard work, self-confidence and care for others—qualities that will ultimately make them better people. With this in mind, it is clear that our schools, and more specifically, our teachers, coaches and administrators, have a huge responsibility to ensure our kids have a safe, nurturing environment in which to learn and grow.

I am proud to say that Ohio has thousands of well-qualified, caring educators who work hard each day to provide a positive influence for their students. Unfortunately, as we discovered through findings of a recent news report, there are rare exceptions when not every teacher lives up to these expectations, and in some cases, they pose a tremendous danger.

As many of you may have read or seen on the television news, earlier this month, the Columbus Dispatch published findings of a shocking, 10-month investigation, which highlighted how local school districts and the Ohio Depart-ment of Education

investigate, discipline and report teacher misconduct.

Through a series of articles called “The ABC’s of Betrayal,” the Dispatch tells extremely troubling stories of teachers, who, despite having inappropriate sexual relationships with students, being accused of molestation, corporal punishment or for exhibiting other conduct “unbecoming of the profession,” continue to hold licenses to teach in the state of Ohio and have been able to move on to other school districts.

In fact, the report found that more than 1,700 educators have been disciplined since 2000 for everything from shoplifting to murder, and two-thirds were allowed to return to the classroom or start school jobs.

While the crimes, in and of themselves, are troubling, these articles also raise serious concerns about how little the public knows about teachers who have been reprimanded for inappropriate actions and how school districts do not adequately share information with one another regarding misconduct.

For instance, the article cites that ODE has labeled 246 teacher discipline cases as secret, even to parents and school districts, and the Dispatch found that 50 of these cases involved crimes against children.

Even before the Dispatch’s story broke, the Ohio Legislature passed legislation designed protect our children from dangerous teachers by cleaning up the state’s teacher misconduct reporting system and toughening hiring standards.

House Bill 79, which passed the 126th General Assembly in December 2006 and took effect on March 30 of this year, increased the frequency of criminal background checks throughout an educator’s career, requiring, among other things, checks every five years for new teachers. In addition, the bill requires schools to report teacher misconduct to the Ohio Department of Education, regardless of whether the teacher has been convicted of a crime.

HB 79 is a positive step in the right direction in the reporting of teacher misconduct to the ODE, however the Dispatch’s investigation has uncovered several areas that still need addressed. We must work to improve school district’s compliance with reporting allegations of misconduct under existing law, while making sure the information being collected by the ODE is better communicated to other school districts that are making hiring decisions, as well as the general public.

Moving forward, it is essential that legislators and the education community come together to establish more transparency in the state’s education system, so parents can feel confident that they are sending their child to a safe, secure environment filled with good, honest folks who have the best interests of their students in mind.

Senator John A. Carey is a representative for the 17th District. To reach him, send mail to Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215, or call his office at (614) 466-8156.