Teachers Behaving Badly: Here’s why hundreds of Massachusetts’ teachers have lost their licenses

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Teachers are usually the ones disciplining students, but what happens when a teacher misbehaves?

The 22News I-Team requested reports on teacher misconduct from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESI, and discovered they’re currently investigating 380 teachers across the state.

More than 80 of those teachers are being investigated for “boundary issues,” which includes having sex with a student/minor, touching a student/minor and porn, along with other issues.

Between January of 2013 and the end of 2017, the state investigated 774 public school teachers. Some of those teachers worked in western Massachusetts.

According to documents the I-Team obtained from the state, a teacher at Amherst Regional High School was fired in 2014 for reportedly having an inappropriate relationship with a student. His license was revoked in February of 2016.

A teacher from Springfield reportedly stole money from Putnam Vocational Technical High School in 2011, and was convicted of larceny in 2015. That teacher’s license has also been revoked.

A teacher was arrested in Berkshire County in 2013 for allegedly buying alcohol for minors and touching a minor in a sexually suggestive manner. Three months after his arrest, that same teacher started working at Commerce High School in Springfield.

The I-Team wanted to know how something like that could happen, so we took our investigation to Jeff Wulfson, the Deputy Commissioner of DESI.

(Is there a reason why this information wasn’t relayed to the district?)
“If a teacher is arrested at any time, they’re required to actually notify us because we’re their licensing authority. Are there occasions where teachers don’t do that? Absolutely. It’s not foolproof, but as soon as we find out about it, we’ll certainly take action,” Wulfson said.

Melissa Shea is the Chief of Human Resources for Springfield Public Schools. “We do do background checks.” 

Shea told the I-Team, all teachers must pass a CORI background check and fingerprint-based state and national background checks, before they can work for the district.

If a teacher gets arrested after they pass those background checks, it may be more difficult for them to figure it out. “If someone’s license hasn’t been revoked, it would be a challenge to find out what the circumstances are and whether the person is still employable. We cannot intervene if we don’t know what’s happening,” Shea said.

It turns out, the teacher at Commerce High School in Springfield had passed a background check with the district, and was hired before he was charged in Berkshire County. He was eventually fired after he was arrested for allegedly sending explicit text messages to a student in Springfield. The state pulled his license in January of 2016. 

It’s enough to make any parent question their child’s safety, but the I-Team discovered, most of the time parents never find out. School districts cannot legally release information on why a teacher has been fired.

(A lot of parents are concerned that when something happens with a teacher, and they lose their job and possibly their license, that the school is sweeping things under the rug.)
“I think parents need to have some trust and confidence in the school administrators, that they’re handling things appropriately, even if they can’t speak publicly about it,” Wulfson said.

Wulfson told the I-Team, the state can release information to parents who request it, once a teacher’s license has been suspended or revoked, but as the I-Team learned, even that’s limited.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that personally identifiable information on students is exempt from the state’s public records law, if the individual could be identified “not only from the view point of the public, but also from the vantage point of those who [are familiar with the individual]. 

That means state law prohibits DESI from releasing any personally identifiable information on incidents involving students, even if their name has been redacted. 

(In states like Georgia and Florida, they post everything online when a teacher’s license is revoked, but here in Massachusetts, even when you publicly request information, half of it is redacted. Is there a reason for this?)
“A lot of the redaction has to do with the students who are involved. We always try to strike that balance with the public’s interest of knowing and the privacy of the students,” Wulfson said.

A balancing act that as frustrating as it may be for parents, was put in place to protect students.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: 

200 public schools teachers in Massachusetts had their licenses suspended, revoked, or voluntarily surrendered between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2017.
That includes teachers’ at the following districts in western Massachusetts:

  • Amherst Regional High School
  • Frontier Regional
  • Mohawk Trail Regional School District
  • Palmer
  • Springfield
  • Ware 

Reasons Behind Suspensions and Revocations:

  • Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Boundary issues involving porn, sex, or touching
  • Conduct unbecoming
  • A problem related to how they administered MCAS to students
  • Cheating on Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure (MTEL)
  • Child support delinquency 

To find out whether a teacher has had their license suspended or revoked, click here

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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