An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic. A seven-month investigation in which reporters sought disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2001 through 2005 found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned following allegations of sexual misconduct. The number of abusive educators is equal to nearly three for every school day. At least half the educators who were punished by their states also were convicted of crimes related to their misconduct.
Young people were the victims in at least 1,801 of the cases, and more than 80 percent of those were students. One report mandated by Congress estimated that as many as 4.5 million students, out of roughly 50 million in American schools, are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade. That figure includes verbal harassment that’s sexual in nature.
Private school teachers rarely turn up because many are not required to have a teaching license and, even when they have one, disciplinary actions are typically handled within the school. Very few abusers get caught. There is often no independent corroborating evidence.
Recently, however, the growing use of e-mails and text messages is leaving a trail that investigators and prosecutors can use to prove an intimate relationship when other evidence is hard to find. In one case, at the teacher’s criminal trial, the victim read the teacher’s e-mails and instant messages aloud, from declarations of true love to explicit references to past sex.
Some abused students in school, others were cited for sexual misconduct after hours that didn’t necessarily involve a kid from their classes, such as viewing or distributing child pornography. They include a former principal who impregnated a 14-year old student, as confirmed by DNA evidence, and a former teacher who conceived a child with a 16-year-old former student then went on maternity leave in 2004 while police investigated. She was hired to teach in a nearby school district; board members said police hadn’t told them about the investigation.
Another teacher was fired from his first teaching job after being accused of molesting a student but subsequently taught for decades in other states, fending off at least a half-dozen more abuse accusations. He finally surrendered his teaching license in 2004 – 40 years after the first victim had come forward. Such moving to another school in a different community is a dynamic so common it has its own nicknames – “passing the trash” or the “mobile molester.”
Many school districts prefer to deal with the problem of an abusive teacher internally, suspending the person or having him or her move on. Thereby their license is never investigated. School officials fear public embarrassment as much as the perpetrators do.
Teachers moving on is similar to the problem of doctors moving states in order to avoid the consequences of disciplinary action. The lack of a centralized, federal data base of complaints, medical malpractice lawsuit verdicts and settlements, and disciplinary action can make it difficult for a patient to obtain an accurate history of a doctor, including a surgeon about to operate.
The Laws in several states require that even an allegation of sexual misconduct be reported to the state departments that oversee teacher licenses. More states now require background checks on teachers, fingerprinting and mandatory reporting of abuse, though there are still loopholes and a lack of coordination among districts and states.
The AP found the number of state actions against sexually abusive teachers rose steadily, to a high of 649 in 2005. U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the last 20 years on civil rights and sex discrimination have opened schools up to potentially huge financial punishments for abuses, which has driven some schools to act.