Yesterday the TSPC met to discuss a backlog in teacher misconduct cases here in Oregon. In reading through a few articles on this issue it became clear that there is a significant and little talked about problem with something deeper than a general category of teacher misconduct. Specifically we have here in Oregon a significant problem with sexual misconduct on the part of far too many teachers.
The Oregonian has a short article on yesterday’s TSPC meeting as well as links to two years of investigative reporting on the systemic cover-up of teacher misconduct over the past decade. Below I’ll post the key points from the articles that stood out to me:
- The problem:
The 17-member commission, which licenses and disciplines educators, considered a record 377 misconduct complaints this year. Those included the 290 cases reported this year plus pending cases from the previous year. That’s nearly double the 195 cases the commission considered just three years ago.
- The deeper problem:
So far this year, the commission has disciplined 84 educators, about one in five involving some level of sexual misconduct. It also has issued discipline orders to 94 other educators, who have the option of appealing the orders in an administrative hearing.
A total of 165 sexual misconduct cases is on record for the 10 year span of 1997-2007.
So TSPC has gone from discipline in about 16 cases of sexual misconduct per year to the current two-year running total of 84 sexual misconduct cases not including some of the 300 backlogged cases yet to be heard.
- What happened two years ago:
- New Laws
The Legislature last spring passed a law that bars school administrators from concealing the sexual misconduct of teachers who agree to resign and move on, a practice educators call “passing the trash.” Lawmakers also passed other laws that give the commission more power, require administrators to do deeper background checks on new hires and demand districts educate teachers about sexual misconduct.
- Public Awareness
Some of the increase is the result of more publicity on teacher misconduct resulting from a series of stories The Oregonian published in early 2008.
The Oregonian confirmed or obtained 47 agreements in which school administrators agreed to conceal sexual misconduct by educators in exchange for their willingness to resign. The newspaper found that nearly half the teachers disciplined for sexual offenses over a five-year period left their districts under the cloak of secret deals.
So what might look like an increase in misconduct is actually an increase in reporting of this activity. As well as a legislated body able to address this misconduct. Honestly the year is 2009. Does anyone remember the Packwood hearings back in 1995 nearly 15 years ago? The big national ah ha! The oh, now we understand, there have to be rules, accountability, avenues for reporting. All that feigned shock at people in power using their positions to coerce sexual acts out of subordinates.
Does this really have to happen over and over again? I suppose the answer is yes as long as we keep compartmentalizing this issue. One person at a time, one case at a time. No deep analysis as to who and why within all of the school districts would chose to keep quite and pass along known ‘problem teachers.’ And without deeply questioning that practice, how quickly will these new legal mandates be circumvented by site based practices?
Without raised awareness of these problems (both the offenses / and the professional blind eye to the offenses) as well as soul searching on the part of education preparation programs, the state department of education, the state and local school boards, district leadership teams, teachers unions, and community leaders are we to assume the TSPC can simply police away this misconduct?
If you are interested in learning more yourself, here are links to the some of the Oregonians earlier reporting on the topic: Schools let sex abuse cases slide and here is a graphic of teacher misconduct from 1997-2007 by category. The Oregonian also has a link to the data base where you can see the public record on all teacher discipline from 1997-2007.
I did some scanning to see if there was a way to query the data base by elementary, middle, and high school /or/ by teacher gender, field of teaching /or/ by offense to get a greater understanding of generally who the past perpetrators were by location or by misconduct category but I was only able to look up misconduct case by case. Those deeper questions of location, field, etc could help us deduce where teacher misconduct is more or less normalized. And that would be a beginning.
Hopefully TSPC is using the data they are collecting to consider these hidden structural questions as well. There within the trends of teacher misconduct – hiding in the numbers – are the systemic gaps that leave students vulnerable to unethical adults who every day have very real power and authority over them.