Story after story after story about public school kids at risk
Chelsea Schneider, Emma Kate Fittes and Meghan Holden, Indiana gets ‘F’ for failing to screen out problematic teachers, Indy Star
Full link: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/education/2016/02/14/indiana-gets-f-failing-screen-out-problematic-teachers/80230870/
Indiana’s decision to delegate the screening of prospective teachers to local school districts is full of holes that sometimes allow sexual predators and other problematic instructors into the classroom.
An analysis by USA TODAY Network with IndyStar shows the policy remains in place even though school districts don’t have direct access to NASDTEC, a national clearinghouse of teacher discipline cases. Only states can gain direct access to that data.
Also, teachers can receive a license in Indiana before a detailed vetting of their background is completed. School districts aren’t required to complete a deep background check until after teachers have been in the classroom for three months.
Broken discipline tracking systems lets teachers flee troubled pasts
But possibly more problematic, state law doesn’t prohibit school districts from entering into confidentiality agreements, a practice that gained attention with the high-profile teacher misconduct case at Park Tudor School. Those agreements can be forged before a district cuts ties with a teacher, meaning possible misconduct can stay hidden. It’s a practice that a statewide school association warns against, and a local child abuse prevention advocate says state lawmakers should review.
Some of those shortcomings resulted in Indiana being among only 12 states and the District of Columbia to receive an “F” for the screening of teachers, according to the USA TODAY analysis. Seven states, including Vermont and Alabama, received an “A.”
Simply put: The analysis found bad actors have successfully become licensed in Indiana despite the state’s background check requirements. Also, the state’s lax reporting to NASDTEC, the national database, could make it easier for educators accused of misconduct to move without notice to another school corporation.
Indiana Department of Education officials say they immediately report teachers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked to NASDTEC.
But an analysis of Department of Education records shows that since 2013, the agency has failed to report about 30 percent of those cases to NASDTEC. A vast majority of cases left off the database involved sexual misconduct allegations.
How USA TODAY audited the country’s broken systems for tracking teacher discipline
Cases not reported include:
• Corey Greenwood, a former Indianapolis Public Schools administrator, whose teaching license was revoked in 2014 after he admitted to having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student.
• Darren Williams, a former teacher in the Lafayette Catholic school system, who pleaded guilty to a child pornography charge and whose license was revoked in 2013.
Going back further, the analysis found at least 20 other instances since 1996 of teachers whose licenses were either revoked or suspended that were not reported to the clearinghouse. One of the cases not reported to NASDTEC involved a kidnapping that resulted in death.
The issue lies with no federal mandate to report to NASDTEC, or lack of a nationwide collection of data on teachers who abuse students, said Terri Miller, president of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation.
“The database is only as good as the information that goes into it — and again, it’s all voluntary,” Miller said.
Daniel Altman, Department of Education spokesman, said the agency was updating NASDTEC to reflect cases that should have been — but weren’t — reported under the current administration. Altman said the department also will review the older files to determine whether they should be reported.
“We are taking a look at it and ensuring everything we have appropriate documentation on gets reported,” Altman said.
Miller said states need cross-checks and balances. She said Hoosier teachers should go through a background check at licensure. Currently, teachers are required to provide some background information when applying for their certification, but it’s not as detailed as the expanded criminal history check they go through once they are employed.
“This is a position of trust, and every precaution should be taken when you are placing people in authority over children,” Miller said. “It definitely provides a loophole for them to sneak through.”
Indiana leaves background checks up to local school districts and their vendors but spells out in state law exactly what those screens should include.
Issues with confidentiality agreements
The analysis comes as one of Indianapolis’ most prominent schools is reeling from the case of Kyle Cox. The former Park Tudor basketball coach is charged with coercing a 15-year-old student to send him explicit images. Before his resignation, Cox signed a confidentiality agreement with the school, but the case became public after law enforcement began investigating.
Indiana doesn’t have a law governing those agreements, even for public school corporations, according to Julie Slavens, an attorney for the Indiana School Boards Association.
“We advise not to use it,” Slavens said, “because a lot of times, just as a general rule, a confidentiality agreement limits what you can say. Well, by state law there’s some information that has to be disclosed, so obviously that information can’t be subject to a confidentiality agreement. With a public entity, there’s not much information that is confidential by law that you could cover in a confidentiality agreement.”
Slavens also said that some incidents are required to be reported to the Department of Education, such as serious crimes. State law expressly requires school districts to report to the Department of Education any teacher who has been convicted of a crime, but that doesn’t bar a school district from providing the information about an arrest or misconduct earlier.
Slavens said the handful of confidentiality agreements that she can recall involved administrators. She said sometimes an agreement can be initiated by an outgoing employee if he or she is worried about a bad reference.
“I’ve never understood why a school would agree to it,” she said.
Sharon Pierce, CEO of The Villages and Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, said lawmakers should study the issue.
“I think in terms of child safety, that is an area that we could work together as a state,” Pierce said, “so that we really are diligent about protecting children.”
State officials defend Indiana’s checks
State law does require teachers, substitutes and other school personnel to submit to a background check as they are being hired by a school district. Yet the screen doesn’t need to be finalized before they step into a classroom — just at least three months after they are hired.
State education officials and lawmakers defend Indiana’s system, saying background checks are stronger now than in the past and should catch any applicants with troublesome histories.
“We do not hear complaints or suggestions from public school folks that the system isn’t working now,” said Risa Regnier, assistant superintendent of school support services for the Department of Education.
Background checks are best left to local control — a concept that most education policy is centered on, said Jill Shedd, an assistant dean for teacher education at Indiana University.
“I respect that school corporations have an opportunity to identify what is important for their corporation and their community,” Shedd said.
The screens are typically done by a private company of the district’s choice. Danville-based Safe Hiring Solutions CEO Mike McCarty said his company conducts the checks for about half of the state’s schools.
The company searches applicants’ records dating back 10 years or more, uses several local, state and national criminal, driving, credit and sex offender databases and conducts extensive checks on all their names and aliases, according to its website.
In 2009, the state began requiring schools to do an expanded criminal history check, searching records in every jurisdiction a person has lived. Lawmakers added to the criteria local school districts need to check last year, requiring a verification of an applicant’s identity. It’s an improvement from past practices, in which background checks were more limited and didn’t require a review of out-of-state records.
The Department of Education said it will run an educator through NASDTEC if it has information about an action against an applicant’s license in another state, according to a response to USA TODAY’s survey.
Still, some bad actors have gotten through — at least initially — including a man who had been featured on NBC Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator.”
• Stanley Kendall served as a substitute teacher for three districts in Northern Indiana until residents saw him on a rerun episode of “To Catch a Predator.” Kendall was charged with online solicitation of a minor after being caught in a sting operation in Texas for an episode that aired in 2007. He was never prosecuted after the charges were dropped on a technicality. Texas revoked his teaching license, but when he applied for a substitute license in Indiana in 2014, he didn’t disclose the revocation, and it wasn’t caught. But after residents saw him on the show, they notified the district, which in turn notified the Department of Education. His Indiana license was revoked in 2014, and he is reported in NASDTEC.
• In Avon, an application for a substitute teacher was accidentally approved even though the person had an out-of-state criminal conviction for sexual battery. However, the mistake was caught before Barry Teague served in a classroom, and Avon Community Schools officials say he was never employed by the district. A Department of Education database indicates Teague lied on his license application. Teague’s license was revoked in 2014, and he is reported in NASDTEC.
Despite the error in offering Teague a substitute license, a spokeswoman for Avon schools says the current state policy works.
“We feel the current practice of conducting background checks at the local level is effective,” Stacey Moore, community relations coordinator for Avon Community Schools, said in a statement. “In this case, the applicant was never employed by Avon, and we are not aware that he was employed by any Indiana school district.”
In the “To Catch a Predator” case, Steve Clason, superintendent of Whitko Community Schools, said the district conducted a background check on Kendall before he entered the classroom, but nothing showed up because he hadn’t been prosecuted.
Kendall was in the classroom for a few days before the school found out about his past.
“How do you get information about people who weren’t prosecuted?” Clason said. “It’s more of an issue of what data is being put into the system.”
Kendall isn’t the only teacher whose past doesn’t show up on a background check. Some teachers included in data provided to USA TODAY and IndyStar by the Department of Education still have their license because the cases are pending, or they faced allegations that rose to the level of them being placed on administrative leave but didn’t result in criminal charges. In a few cases, teachers left their district as a result of the alleged behavior, but because no action was taken, they still have their license and a clean criminal history.
Efforts by IndyStar to contact Williams and Teague were not immediately successful.
An attorney for Greenwood said his client, “has been working hard to make amends for his actions and, as should be the case, he will never teach again, not in Indiana and not anywhere.”
Kendall told WFAA-8 in Dallas, “TEA (Texas Education Agency) pulled my license when they really didn’t have grounds to, but they did, and I let it happen because I didn’t have money to fight it. Teachers don’t make a lot of money in Texas.”
Issue for the legislature
Altman argued that the Department of Education, under the supervision of current Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, has done its job in holding teachers accountable. He noted that during Ritz’s time in office she has revoked more licenses than the previous administration. Records show 26 licenses were revoked under former state schools chief Tony Bennett, compared with the 30 revocations that have occurred to date under Ritz.
He said questions about the strength of Indiana’s background checks are ones for the General Assembly.
“That’s obviously an issue for the legislature to determine,” Altman said.
State Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Lizton, said no one has presented data to lawmakers that show state-level screenings are better than what Indiana is doing now. Last year, Thompson authored the bill that added criteria to the state’s background checks.
“If you bring me data to show that’s superior, of course, I would be open to that,” Thompson said. “I want the best.”
Jen Zettel, State backlog lets educators keep licenses, USA Today Network – Wisconsin
Full article with links: http://www.postcrescent.com/story/news/education/2016/02/14/state-backlog-lets-educators-keep-licenses/79369052/
A backlog at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction allows educators suspected of serious misconduct to keep valid teaching licenses, sometimes for years after the allegations surface, a new analysis shows.
And once licenses are revoked, the state sometimes fails to notify a federal clearinghouse aimed at preventing teachers from seeking employment in other states, USA TODAY NETWORK has found.
RELATED: Wisconsin gets ‘C’ for teacher licensure
The state has three employees tasked with investigating educator licenses, said Tom McCarthy, a DPI spokesperson.
DPI has open investigations for nearly two dozen educators, and hundreds more for educators whose licenses have expired, according to records obtained by USA TODAY NETWORK.
RELATED: Broken discipline tracking systems lets teachers flee troubled pasts
Licenses are required for teachers, administrators and school counselors to work in Wisconsin public schools.
A handful of those under scrutiny were convicted of crimes ranging from drunk driving to having sex with a child under 16.
INTERACTIVE: Background check report cards
Nadine Minglana, a former special education teacher at the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institute, was convicted in Sheboygan County Court in 2012 of misconduct-excess authority after she had sexual contact with an inmate in her classroom.
Minglana’s case ended in 2012, but her teaching license is still under investigation. The DPI started its investigation in 2011, according to the state’s educator licensor database.
The DPI says while its system isn’t perfect, it throws up red flags to make districts ask questions.
“What most districts do in the hiring process is they pull your license and they use our Educator Licensor Portal. If they pull your file and it says ‘Under Investigation as of …’ they will call us and we will say, ‘Here are the details that we can tell you,'” McCarthy said. “At that point, the vast majority of people who have the ‘Under Investigation’ status on are not going to be hired by a district.”
The DPI is so behind on inquiries that educators’ licenses often expire before the investigators get to them, and subsequently fall to the bottom of the pile.
When USA TODAY first received data from the DPI, about 52 people were classified as “Under Investigation.” Nearly a year later, six people had their licenses revoked and seven were cleared from investigation, but 17 educators’ licenses expired before the DPI finished its inquiry.
More than 250 people now have the classification “Investigation-License Expired,” according to DPI data.
The state isn’t concerned about those educators because school districts won’t hire them without valid credentials.
“If their license has expired and we’re still investigating them, we’re less concerned about them going into a classroom and trying to teach than we would be if somebody’s license is not expired,” McCarthy said.
Without a full revocation, however, an educator could theoretically obtain a teaching license in another state if that licensing body didn’t contact Wisconsin for information.
When the state finishes the investigation and revokes a teacher’s license, officials report the teacher to a nationwide clearinghouse. The database is operated by the nonprofit National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification — or NASDTEC for short.
State education departments directly input the names and information of teachers, principals and administrators whose licenses they’ve taken away, said Phillip Rogers, NASDTEC executive director.
A USA TODAY NETWORK analysis of the database found 80 Wisconsin educators with revoked licenses who aren’t in the clearinghouse. In cross-checking with the DPI, McCarthy could not provide an exact number, but the figure was not that high.
The agency found that names of some Wisconsin teachers were misspelled in NASDTEC, which means they were entered, albeit incorrectly, McCarthy said.
He did not know why some educators weren’t reported to the clearinghouse.
Appleton teacher Mary Berglund does not appear in the NASDTEC database, according to USA TODAY NETWORK’s findings. Berglund’s inappropriate treatment of students with disabilities at Janet Berry Elementary School led to her dismissal, the loss of her teaching license and her conviction on five misdemeanor counts of battery.
So if Berglund were to apply for a license in a neighboring state, her name would not raise red flags with a search of NASDTEC, a routine screening around the country.
Wisconsin isn’t the only state behind on reporting revocations, USA TODAY NETWORK found. Nationwide thousands of educators disciplined since 1990 are missing from the NASDTEC clearinghouse. At least 1,400 of the educators’ teaching licenses were permanently revoked, and at least 200 of them for allegations of sexual or physical abuse.
Participation in NASDTEC is voluntary, and currently, the federal Department of Education does not require states to collect data on educators who have sexually assaulted students, said Terri Miller, president of the nonprofit organization Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME).
“Until we get some strong mandates to gather the data, to put mandates in place that require every state to adhere to reporting procedures, then we’re going to have this problem continue for more decades than it already has,” Miller said.
NASDTEC will soon require that states audit their database entries, which will hopefully help them catch errors and ensure they report up-to-date information.
“It is a human system. People enter information in. Sometimes they enter the information in and they transpose a number or they misspell a last name, and that’s unfortunate,” Rogers said. “There’s just no way to find out unless they go back and check the records, which we intend to require them to do to keep using the clearinghouse.”
The DPI said NASDTEC is one tool they use when screening applicants for teaching licenses. The agency puts more trust in FBI Criminal Background Checks, which include fingerprinting, McCarthy said.
“We view NASDTEC as a courtesy and we like the service … but it is in no way shape or form the last or authoritative word,” he said.
While educators like Berglund have a criminal history that will likely prevent them from receiving a new teaching job, oversight groups worry more about those who resign before a paper trail is created for misconduct.
They can slip through the cracks, even with background checks.
“Background checks are a false sense of security,” Miller said. “Because of the practice of ‘passing the trash,’ those people don’t have a criminal history — they’ve never been reported.”
Wisconsin has measures in place to stop school districts from passing problem educators discreetly onto other districts.
State law requires Wisconsin school districts to notify the DPI if they investigate an educator for misconduct, McCarthy said. The DPI then opens up its own investigation.
Should Wisconsin educators cross state lines, the responsibility falls to the state they move to, McCarthy said.
Officials from other states can check an educator’s license status through Wisconsin’s public online portal and call the DPI with concerns.
“In some instances we can share (information) with them. In other instances, though, because of the way due process works in our state, we are limited in what we can tell them,” McCarthy said. “It’s challenging. I think you’ve got your finger on a very legitimate piece.”
Steve Reilly, Broken discipline tracking systems let teachers flee troubled pasts, USA Today
Full article with links: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/02/14/broken-discipline-tracking-system-lets-teachers-with-misconduct-records-back-in-classroom/79999634/
Georgia officials revoked a teacher’s license after finding he exchanged sexual texts and naked photos with a female student and was involved in physical altercations with two others.
A central Florida teacher’s credentials were suspended after she was charged with battery for allegedly shoving and yelling at a 6-year-old student.
In Texas, a middle school math teacher lost his job and teaching license after he was caught on camera allegedly trying to meet a teenage boy in a sting set up by NBC’s nationally aired TV program To Catch a Predator.
All three of those teachers found their way back to the front of public school classrooms, simply by crossing state lines. They’re far from alone.
An investigation by the USA TODAY NETWORK found fundamental defects in the teacher screening systems used to ensure the safety of children in the nation’s more than 13,000 school districts.
The patchwork system of laws and regulations — combined with inconsistent execution and flawed information sharing between states and school districts — fails to keep teachers with histories of serious misconduct out of classrooms and away from schoolchildren. At least three states already have begun internal investigations and audits based on questions raised during the course of this investigation.
Over the course of a year, the USA TODAY NETWORK gathered the databases of certified teachers and disciplined teachers using the open records laws of each of the 50 states. Additionally, journalists used state open records laws to obtain a private nationwide discipline database that many states use to background teachers. The computerized analysis of the combined millions of records from all 50 states revealed:
States fail to report the names of thousands of disciplined teachers to a privately run database that is the nation’s only centralized system for tracking teacher discipline, many of which were acknowledged by several states’ education officials and the database’s non-profit operator. Without entries in the database, troubled and dangerous teachers can move to new states — and get back in classrooms — undetected.
The names of at least 9,000 educators disciplined by state officials are missing from a clearinghouse operated by the non-profit National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification. At least 1,400 of those teachers’ licenses had been permanently revoked, including at least 200 revocations prompted by allegations of sexual or physical abuse,
State systems to check backgrounds of teachers are rife with inconsistencies, leading to dozens of cases in which state education officials found out about a person’s criminal conviction only after a teacher was hired by a district and already in the classroom. Eleven states don’t comprehensively check teachers’ work and criminal backgrounds before issuing licenses, leaving that work to local districts — where critics say checks can be done poorly or skipped.
The USA TODAY NETWORK analysis found many examples of failure of screening at the school district level, including school systems first made aware of troubled teachers on their staffs by journalists. One teacher in North Carolina was removed from the classroom and another in Louisiana resigned in recent weeks after journalists questioned school districts about past disciplinary actions in other states.
How USA TODAY audited the country’s broken systems for tracking teacher discipline
Problematic teachers amount to a minuscule proportion of the millions of educators nationwide. There are more than 3 million teachers nationwide, and less than 1% have ever faced a disciplinary action.
Despite years of efforts by child safety advocates and some U.S. lawmakers, the federal government does not play a role in mandating teacher background checks or making sure information about even severe abuse cases is shared between states. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have a central government system to track disciplined teachers across jurisdictions.
“We dropped the ball”
In Texas, the analysis found hundreds of educators who faced serious discipline, but whose names never ended up in NASDTEC’s Clearinghouse. As a result, the teachers could conceal their past misconduct if they tried to get a teaching license and a job in another state. Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe blamed staff turnover for several missing names and said some would be submitted.
“We dropped the ball by not doing so,” Ratcliffe said.
Officials in several more states also said they would fix some disciplinary actions that USA TODAY’s analysis revealed were missing from the NASDTEC Clearinghouse. Georgia’s teacher credentialing agency added new layer of oversight to its reporting process, and officials in Iowa also promised a complete audit of their system, as a result of discrepancies revealed by this analysis.
NASDTEC Executive Director Phillip S. Rogers said he believes the privately-run system works to prevent many troubled teachers every year from reaching classrooms, but he concedes the database is only as good as the data submitted by state agencies. The analysis found the national database is not only incomplete, but rife with misspellings and other inaccuracies that undermine its usefulness.
“It’s imperfect,” he said, “but it’s very close to being right most of the time.”
To others, an imperfect system is not good enough.
“When parents put their kids on the school bus in the morning, they have every right to expect that their kids are going to the safest possible environment,” said U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who has pushed federal reforms. “And we’re not doing our job if we could make that environment safer.”
Slipping through cracks
Flaws in the nation’s fractured systems for checking teachers’ backgrounds are apparent in the stories of educators like Alexander M. Stormer.
Stormer left a troubled past in Georgia to teach in Charlotte until last month, when North Carolina officials were contacted for this story.
In March 2015, Stormer resigned from Atlanta Public Schools after a string of misconduct allegations over a one-week span, according to separate accounts in state education department and police records. Stormer allegedly injured a student’s arm while dragging him from a desk into a hallway and pushed a girl in the chest into a wall. A surveillance camera captured the shoving incident.
The state education department and Atlanta police also reported that Stormer sent improper text messages, including naked photos, to another female student, according to records. In one text message exchange, the records say Stormer asked the student for sex.
Despite the problems in Georgia, Stormer applied for and got teaching licenses in South Carolina and North Carolina. South Carolina was later alerted to his discipline in Georgia by an update to the NASDTEC Clearinghouse, and the state revoked his South Carolina license.
In North Carolina, however, Stormer’s past went undetected. He taught at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology in Charlotte until last month, when he was suspended without pay after a reporter for the Asheville Citizen-Times (part of the USA TODAY NETWORK) began asking questions about why he had a North Carolina license and a teaching job after his license was revoked in two neighboring states.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district spokeswoman Renee McCoy said officials there would like a tool to more easily identify educators who have had problems elsewhere.
“It would be our hope that your story might inspire a national teacher license clearinghouse that would list license revocations from any and all states, so that districts would only need to enter a name and any revocation from any state would pop up,” she wrote in an email. Attempts to reach Stormer by phone, e-mail and at the home he owns were not successful.
There are plenty more examples across the country of teachers keeping damaged careers afloat by migrating to new states.
In April 2006, the Florida Department of Education notified Lainie Wolfe it sought to discipline her for a range of accusations including allegedly failing to follow school board policies after receiving a student’s suicide note; making false charges against her principal; and forging the signature of a parent on a student consent form. Florida later suspended Wolfe’s license for two years. Before the action was finalized, Wolfe applied for and was granted a teaching license in Colorado.
When Colorado officials found out years later about the Florida suspension, Wolfe signed a settlement deal in 2011 that is the equivalent to the permanent revocation of her Colorado license.
But Wolfe wasn’t finished teaching. She returned to Florida and was hired by Miami-Dade Public Schools. In 2012, according to Florida records, she “slapped (a) developmentally delayed 6-year-old student” in the face and was fired. Her license is now permanently revoked in Florida and Colorado.
In an interview with USA TODAY, Wolfe said she received glowing recommendations in both states for counseling and teaching, and she disputes many of the accusations against her. Though she denies slapping a student at the Miami school, Wolfe admitted she erred in failing to disclose the pending Florida disciplinary action when she applied for a Colorado license.
“I made a mistake,” she said. “I should have disclosed.”
Reva Diane Inabnett resigned from a Florida school district in 2012 after allegations that she shoved a 6-year-old led to a battery charge, which was dropped after she completed a deferred prosecution program. Inabnett’s license is suspended in Florida, state records show. She remained licensed in Louisiana and relocated there to teach at Webster Parish schools in 2013. She was teaching in Webster until Feb. 8, when she resigned after an inquiry to the district from USA TODAY.
“The district was aware of nothing that would have impaired her employment in the state of Louisiana, or obviously they would not have hired this lady or any other person,” said Jon Guice, attorney for the Webster Parish School Board. “They take their obligations seriously.”
In an email, Inabnett said she erred in judgment in Florida, and it was exaggerated. “I learned from my mistake. I did a great deal of soul-searching,” she wrote, adding that she taught successfully in Louisiana for three years. “I realized that we all make mistakes and that I needed to be more careful. I sought a second chance, and got it.”
Sometimes, troubled teachers who relocate find their pasts impossible to escape forever.
Stanley A. Kendall worked as a teacher in Indiana after
Stanley A. Kendall worked as a teacher in Indiana after losing his teaching license in Texas.
(Photo: Collin County Sheriff’s Office)
After Dallas-area middle school math teacher Stanley Kendall appeared on NBC’s To Catch a Predator allegedly trying to solicit sex from a child, he lost his Texas teaching license.
On camera, Kendall talks at length with the host, apologizing for chatting online about planned sex acts with someone he believed was a young boy and had arranged to come meet in person. “I am truly sorry,” he says on the show, stressing he never hurt a student. Police arrested him, but prosecutors chose not to pursue criminal charges against Kendall or anyone else from that episode’s sting. The Texas Education Agency permanently revoked Kendall’s license the following year for “sexual misconduct,” state records show.
However, the televised incident didn’t stop him from teaching again. Kendall was hired as a substitute teacher by several Indiana school districts, where he worked unnoticed until someone saw a rerun of the TV show, recognized him and notified schools. A complaint was filed against his Indiana license and state officials investigated. In November 2014, Kendall and the state signed a voluntary license revocation, according to Indiana records.
“TEA pulled my license when they really didn’t have grounds to, but they did, and I let it happen because I didn’t have money to fight it,” Kendall said in an interview this week. “Teachers don’t make a lot of money in Texas.”
Rogers, of the clearinghouse operator NASDTEC, said no one attempted to quantify how many names are missing from the database. But, he said, there are countless incidents where the system has done its job.
“What we don’t know is how many people it has stopped. Because obviously it’s a significant number,” he said. “We don’t keep up with the number of people who have applied to a state and were denied a certificate because they were in NASDTEC.”
Inconsistent state to state
Background checks and the sharing of misconduct information are inconsistent state to state. In 11 states, background checks are primarily the responsibility of school districts or schools — not the state agency issuing teaching licenses. New Mexico, Nebraska and Indiana said their teacher-licensing agencies do not check all applicants against the NASDTEC Clearinghouse for past disciplinary action.
A redacted version of the NASDTEC database obtained
A redacted version of the NASDTEC database obtained from Florida’s education agency.
(Photo: USA TODAY)
North Carolina has no requirement that people applying for teaching credentials undergo criminal background checks, leaving it to the discretion of school districts. Vanessa Jeter, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, said that although the state doesn’t conduct the checks, “local boards of education are required to have a local policy that addresses criminal background checks for potential and current employees.”
In 2010, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog agency, reviewed 15 cases in which a school hired an employee with a history of sexual misconduct. The GAO found at least six of those educators used a teaching position to target more children.
In a second report in 2014, the GAO found child abuse by school personnel is not systematically tracked by any federal agency, and the systems used to check backgrounds of educators “varied widely” between states.
In November 2015, an Arizona Department of Education report found about 22% of 704 educators disciplined by the state since 1996 were not in NASDTEC’s Clearinghouse.
“The bottom line is the system that has been created is flawed,” Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas told the state’s Board of Education in December. “And until we fix that root problem, we can never assure that we will be able to follow up on these things with 100% accuracy.”
How to look up the background of teachers in every state
Over the past decade, there have been many federal government proposals to mandate background checks for teachers, require states and districts to share data about disciplined teachers and prohibit school districts from facilitating the transfer of a teacher accused of sexual misconduct to another jurisdiction. Among the proposals: requiring names of teachers disciplined for sexual misconduct be submitted to a national, government database.A bill introduced by then-Congressman Adam Putnam, R-Fla., would have required the U.S. Department of Education to develop a database of teachers found to have engaged in sexual misconduct and make it public. The measure would have put the USA closer in line with nations such as the United Kingdom, where the government maintains a national database of teachers barred from working with children.
“Our classrooms deserve much more than a piecemeal effort that leaves our nation’s schools exposed to predators moving from state to state,” Putnam said in a speech in Congress in 2009. The bill never got a hearing. Nevertheless, advocacy and education policy groups continued to push for a more reliable way to share teacher misconduct information between states.
“It’s really about protecting kids,” said Sandi Jacobs, senior vice president for state and district policy for the National Council on Teacher Quality. “It seems we could come up with a clear, consistent set of terms and rules so that information is easily shared across states.”