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Education licenses don’t display past misconduct or investigations against teachers

Published: Dec. 10, 2021 at 8:13 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 10, 2021 at 8:29 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Educational licenses don’t always show if a licensed educator pleaded guilty to a crime, including sexual or physical abuse. Future employers can not always see if a licensed teacher, coach, or paraeducator is under investigation.

Although, some licenses are labeled with disciplinary actions from the Board of Educational Examiners. Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team learned the practice isn’t consistent and gives school districts one less resource to learn about an employer’s history.

This is Part 2 of our KCRG-TV9′s i9 Investigative Team’s “Pass the Trash” Investigation. You can read our first story on school staff members being able to resign and being able to work in another school. Our second story was about loopholes in new laws supposed to stop this practice.

Licenses don’t contain history

Iowa’s legislature passed a law requiring all school district employees to have a background check, around eight years ago. The law covers all school employees, including part-time workers.

Gary Benda, who recently became the superintendent of Starmont & West Central School District, said his district goes further than the state law background check. He said he uses the internet, social media, local news stories, and the Iowa Educational Board of Examiners to learn more about a candidate for a position within his school district.

The Board of Educational Examiners, also called the BOEE, is the state agency in charge of educational licenses in the state of Iowa. It oversees paraeducator, administration, coach, and teaching licenses. The Iowa legislature passed a bill, which Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law in May 2019, requiring schools to report teachers accused of abuse or who resign after an allegation of misconduct to the state licensing board within 30 days.

Our i9 Investigative Team found earlier this month administrators sometimes ignore the requirement or some staff members can’t be reported. However, even when the reporting requirement is followed the investigation doesn’t appear on an applicant’s license to another employer. This also occurs when a teacher pled guilty to a crime, even those against students.

For example, earlier this year a Spanish teacher in Fayette County was allowed to resign after she was accused of biting a 16-year old student. According to a criminal complaint, she was charged with assault after the student’s arm became red and showed upper and lower teeth imprints. The teacher pled guilty to disorderly conduct, according to a plea agreement filed in the Fayette County District Court.

Another example includes a former high school teacher in Des Moines, who was sentenced to two years of probation for having a sexual relationship with a student in May. About seven months later his license according to the BOEE’s database is still active and does not indicate his past.

District administrators could learn about these cases from a potential background check. However, background checks can’t pick up investigations into an applicant, like a Union School Teacher who resigned during an investigation into inappropriate emails. His license has no notice about an investigation, even his attorney told us he was reported to the BOEE and planned to settle soon.

This isn’t the case for all licenses. An i9 Investigation uncovered a teacher accused of misconduct that Linn-Mar let resign quietly for personal reasons. His license is noted with a past disciplinary action, which was a written reprimand.

The BOEE declined an on-camera interview with our i9 Investigative Team and didn’t send a statement either. The board, which has 13 employees and 10 board members, is funded through licensure fees. Those fees haven’t increased over the 15 years, according to documents i9 received.

Changes possible to the BOEE

The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners receives no money from the state legislature. However, it might be subjected to new changes from the legislature this upcoming legislative session.

Rep. Dustin Hite (R-New Sharon), who is the chair of the house education committee, said he’s been looking at proposing legislation to take away licenses from teachers when they plead guilty to certain crimes at the Board of Educational Examiner or in a court of law, like sexual offenses. He said he’s frustrated by the number of teachers, who act badly and then just receive a written reprimand.

“The vast majority of teachers, by far, are good people are doing great work with students,” Rep. Hite said. “But there’s a few that aren’t that are harming our students and we need to do something about that”

He also said he’s interested in hearing about different solutions for other problems involving the board.

“Kinda what I would say is everything is on the table,” he said. “If somebody comes up with a good idea, that I think is a good idea, I’m happy to run with that too.”

Rep. Art Staed (D-Cedar Rapids) thanked our i9 Investigation Team for exposing these problems and alerting lawmakers and the public. He said he’s ready to write bills to address our findings but wants to look more closely at the issue to see where changes are needed versus more enforcement techniques.

“I will certainly continue to look at these issues to determine where we need better enforcement of current law and where we need to make changes,” Rep. Staed said. “The legislature has acted in each of the last two sessions and can improve the law again. If there are still loopholes, we can close them.”

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