Files on teacher misconduct in disarray: State

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series of stories examining educator sexual misconduct. All of our stories are online at http://t-g.com/topic/teachermisconduct.


It’s far easier to learn the status of a cosmetologist’s or real estate agent’s license than it is to find out which teachers have committed sexual misconduct against students in Tennessee.

Regulatory agencies like the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance and Real Estate Commission keep detailed records on business people’s licenses. You can find whether a particular professional’s license is active. For real estate agents, you can see what classes he or she has studied recently.

Disorganization

The Tennessee State Board of Education (SBE), however, makes do with a jury-rigged recordkeeping system that includes a former employee’s email archive and disorganized paper folders dating back a decade and a half. That revelation is made in a report issued last week by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA).

“Little or no documentation exists in SBE’s electronic records for approximately 400 of the 800 educators with licenses flagged for SBE Review,” the report reads. “A lack of consistent recordkeeping over time has resulted in a scattering of files between (the Department of Education Office of Licensure) and SBE across several possible sources, both paper and electronic.

“SBE maintains paper files for some cases dating back to 2004; however, the files obtained by OREA appeared to have no discernible system for organization, were incomplete, or were unable to be identified. The electronic files for more recent years’ cases are contained in individual folders by educator name within the board’s network; however, not all cases have a dedicated folder, and some electronic files were saved only within the email archives of a previous SBE employee, making it difficult to determine if case files existed at all for some individuals.

Hard to search

“This lack of organized recordkeeping prevents the board from being able to maintain an efficient process for searching for records on individual educators, running reports, or maintaining accurate statistics on the cases it handles.”

The board’s spreadsheet used to track investigations and license decisions has not been kept up to date, so personnel cannot confirm the status for many pending cases.

“The general counsel and an additional staff attorney hired for this purpose are in the process of reviewing all outstanding cases to determine what action, if any, is necessary to take on these educators’ licenses,” the report reads. “As of fall 2017, SBE has a backlog of approximately six to eight months of outstanding cases from 2016-17 to review.”

Recommendations

The comptroller recommends publishing the final dispositions for all actions taken against educators’ licenses.

“An online database of case histories outlining board actions would allow school districts, as well as out-of-state entities responsible for the licensing and hiring of Tennessee educators, access to information regarding the circumstances of an individual’s license case. Other states, such as Iowa’s Board of Education Examiners, publishes an online database for all disciplinary actions taken against licensed educators dating back to 1974, searchable by type of allegation and sanction. This can also be compared to the online database of actions taken against the licenses of Tennessee attorneys.

“The State Board of Education or the Office of Educator Licensure should notify local boards of education when a director of schools fails to report incidents of misconduct to TDOE within 30 days. The State Board of Education should conduct further research into the best practices of other states’ staffing, technology, and processes to determine how it may wish to address issues related to capacity.

Staff needed

“Currently, along with its general counsel, SBE has one full-time staff attorney solely responsible for reviewing cases of educator misconduct. By comparison, some other states have several staff members dedicated to investigating and reviewing cases concerning license actions. SBE receives, on average, 30 new cases of educator misconduct to review each month and is in the process of reviewing a backlog of approximately six to eight months of outstanding cases from 2016-17.

“The State Board of Education should adopt a better process of file transmission and workflow process with OEL, possibly through the existing TN Compass interface. Currently, SBE and OEL manually transmit files via email, but TDOE is exploring options to enhance TN Compass to contain more workflow processes, including the secure transmission of files. Alongside its analysis of staffing and capacity, SBE should consider the adoption of a case management system to organize its internal files.”