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that targets teachers guilty of abuse.
Bill targets teachers guilty of
Admitting abuse but free to teach
Disciplining Oregon teachers
Bill targets teachers guilty of
Sen. Vicki Walker, a Eugene Democrat critical of how Salem-Keizer school officials handled complaints against Billera, has sponsored two bills about the issue.
In January 2005, the Statesman Journal reported that the district had received complaints about Billera's behavior with students as long as four years before his arrest, but had not placed him on leave, hired an independent investigator, or reported the complaints to the state. The newspaper got the records after appealing the district's denial to the Marion County District Attorney's Office.
Senate Bill 380, which the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced this week to a vote of the full Senate, would make public the disciplinary records of former school employees convicted of sexually abusing students.
The 2005 bill Walker sponsored and the Legislature passed makes public those records for current employees.
"But some districts, when asked for those records, decided we weren't explicit enough because we didn't identify former employees in the bill," said Walker, who was not referring to the Salem-Keizer district.
"The only way for people to know what was going on and to help things change in a district is to get a copy of the disciplinary records, which contain all the information about who reported what and what was in the investigations."
Walker said an interpretation of the 2005 law by the Department of Education opened the disciplinary records of former employees, but her new bill would write it into law.
The bill was supported by Tricia Smith, who spoke for the Oregon School Employees Association, which represents workers other than teachers and administrators.
"While we are protective of our personnel records of our members if they are not convicted of crimes or suspected of child abuse, we believe in these particular circumstances, the greater good is more important," she said.
Senate Bill 379, which the judiciary committee held for more work, would require schools to provide training to all employees about how to identify and prevent child abuse.
School workers already are required to report child abuse, and Walker's 2005 law requires school boards to adopt policies about reporting child abuse. When there is "reasonable cause" to support a report of child abuse, the 2005 law requires the employee in question to be put on paid administrative leave until the Department of Human Services or police decide to dismiss it or pursue an investigation.
"I felt there were not firm policies in place to make sure everybody knows what needed to be done," Walker said.
The Oregon School Employees Association supported the new bill.
Walker's new bill would apply not only to school districts but also the Oregon Youth Authority, the Oregon School for the Blind and the Oregon School for the Deaf. At the latter school, at least six instances of inappropriate sexual conduct occurred between students, or students and staff, according to documents filed with the Department of Education.
Walker proposed a similar training requirement in 2005, but it died during the Legislature's budget-writing process. Sen. Roger Beyer, R-Molalla, said lawmakers should know what costs might be imposed on schools.
"We get beat up constantly that we are passing along unfunded mandates to our school districts," Beyer said. "I'm not saying this is not a good idea or is not needed, but I would like some information about costs."
The Salem-Keizer district is providing such training in the aftermath of Billera and other incidents. Then-Superintendent Kay Baker formed a community task force to develop the training program, which has reached hundreds of people who work with youth.
A spokeswoman said there were small costs for staff time and training materials.
"It is our belief that the cost of doing initial training on
child-abuse reporting is minimal," said David Williams, who spoke for
the Oregon School Boards Association. "But there is a cost, to be
Source: Peter Wong, Statesman Journal, pwong@StatesmanJournal.com or 503.399.6745
Admitting abuse but free to teach
More educators in Oregon are disciplined for sexual misconduct than for any other offense. But teachers who touch, molest or have sex with children are more likely to escape criminal charges than be convicted, a review by The Oregonian shows.
Many of those offenders fit the profile of sexual predators, law enforcement officials say. If they're convicted of sex crimes, they can't teach. But without a conviction, others who lose their state licenses for sexual offenses can be reinstated after a year, meaning some can and do return to Oregon classrooms.
Boyce Williams Jr., for example, had his license revoked in Alaska for spanking and touching special education students on their bare buttocks. But Williams was never convicted of a crime, and Oregon reinstated his credentials. In 2005, he was convicted of misdemeanor harassment after spanking three Rainier School District boys. Neither Williams nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
An analysis by The Oregonian of more than 400 discipline records from 2002 through 2006 from the state teacher licensing agency found:
For every educator convicted of sexual abuse, another was never charged with a crime despite admitting to physical, sexual or inappropriate relationships with students. Thirty-eight educators lost their licenses permanently for a sex crime. But 42, who were not convicted, were suspended, reprimanded or put on probation.
At least 1 in 4 teachers who engaged in a relationship of a sexual nature with a student had been disciplined for similar behavior before. The repeat offenders wrote students love notes, touched them in private areas or had sex with them, even after warnings from school officials.
Each year, an average of 90 educators statewide are sanctioned for wrongdoing, from showing up to class drunk to stealing school property. The number is just 0.3 percent of the 33,000 educators working in public schools and a mere fraction of the 65,000 licensed by the state's Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.
This does not include 20,000 nonlicensed adults such as coaches, janitors and instructional aides working in public schools. An additional 2,000 educators work in private schools and aren't necessarily licensed.
Even though educators who abuse children are a small number, they poison the trust communities forge with schools and other trusted adults. And their sexual exploitation devastates lives.
"I am still scared of him," said one Oregon woman, now in her mid-30s, of a rural high school track coach who lured her into a sexual relationship that persisted through her college years and beyond. The Oregonian is not naming her because she is a sexual abuse victim.
"I still look over my shoulders. . . . My whole memory of it is ugly, and I just don't want to be confronted with that ugliness anymore."
Her anger has grown with time, she said, nearly a decade after she broke free of the coach, who was later convicted of sexually abusing another high school student.
"The majority of the sexual misconduct took place in his classroom after dark," she said. "That violation should appall anybody."
Difficult to convict
Teacher sexual abuse cases are particularly difficult to prosecute because they tend to be high profile, law enforcement officials say.
And investigations are hampered when older teenagers refuse to cooperate and are viewed as consenting adults, even if they're not yet 18.
Often, they believe they are in love with the teacher, or the teacher with them, said Alicia Egan, a deputy district attorney in Yamhill County who has prosecuted several teacher sexual abuse cases.
"The student victims come in my office and they say, 'Well, we're in love,' " Egan said. "I tell them, 'You think you're in love, it doesn't make it right.' It's not love. It's a power relationship."
In addition, teacher sex offenders are often popular, dividing communities and pitting supporters against accusers, said Darin Tweedt, who worked at the child sex crimes unit for the Marion County district attorney's office.
For example, Brian W. Miller was a popular, young teacher who taught math and science at Canyonville School in the South Umpqua School District. When he was convicted in 2006 of groping three girls, ages 12 to 14, some parents and community members sided with him.
According to police reports, the victims' accounts mirrored one another's: Miller asked each girl to stay after school on separate occasions to help him construct a female skeleton by allowing him to take their measurements. He then brought them into an adjacent wood shop, where he touched their breasts while trying to take measurements of their chests. In some cases, he asked the girl to take her shirt off.
In their reports to police, each of the girls referred to Miller as her "favorite teacher."
Miller pleaded no contest in Douglas County to misdemeanor harassment. His lawyer, David Terry, said Miller is still "well-loved and enjoys support in the community."
Without a criminal conviction, most cases fall to the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, which has the discretion to reprimand teachers or suspend or revoke their licenses. When a teacher reapplies for a license, the commission weighs decides whether to grant a reinstatement or deny it.
The Oregonian's analysis of five years of data found the state disciplined 80 teachers for touching kids, contacting students outside school hours or forming relationships with them, and disciplined 14 others for making sexual comments to students.
The 17-member state commission, composed mostly of teachers and former teachers and appointed by the governor to three-year terms, can revoke an educator's license for one year at a time. After that, the educator has the right to ask the commission to reinstate the license.
The commission receives hundreds of complaints each year. Most are dismissed because investigators find the claims unfounded and are vigilant about wrongfully accusing a teacher.
Even after a conviction, some teachers say they are innocent.
David G. Kohl, a Milwaukie middle school teacher, was convicted in 2002 of misdemeanor harassment for touching students.
"I never touched kids inappropriately," he said. "When a kid accuses you of something, you are automatically guilty."
Over the course of the 1999-2000 school year, Kohl's students complained that he rubbed their shoulders, necks and backs -- what an expert on sex offenders would later describe as grooming behavior. The principal sent Kohl at least three memos about the complaints, and parents pulled students from Kohl's class. Only after school officials notified police was Kohl removed from the classroom.
Under Oregon law, an educator convicted of serious crimes cannot teach again. But when there is no conviction, the state agency sometimes has to decide whether to allow a disciplined teacher back in the classroom.
Reinstatements are rare, said Executive Director Vickie Chamberlain. The decision often comes down to a psychiatric evaluation and the educator's testimony.
The commission must weigh the costs of waging expensive legal battles, student safety and the educator's rights to due process, she said.
Much of the commission's decision-making happens behind doors closed to the public, as well as to victims of abuse. Investigation files and complaints are sealed. And final educator discipline orders are decided upon by the commission and its executive director on a case-by-case basis.
Some school officials say districts should have a say in who is allowed to teach again. In Gresham, one teacher lost his license for forming an inappropriate relationship with a student. The commission later reinstated him.
Steve Lewis, human resources director of Gresham-Barlow School District, said he voiced concerns when he learned of the reinstatement.
"They didn't give us the opportunity to say, 'We don't think he should ever be reinstated,' " Lewis said.
Sex offenders should not be given second chances because they are prone to repeat their abuse, said Cory Jewell Jensen, co-director of a sex offender therapy center in Beaverton.
"It's insane for someone who has offended kids to be allowed to teach," she said.
Source: Amy Hsuan: 503-294-5954; firstname.lastname@example.org Melissa Navas: 503-294-5959; email@example.com Bill Graves: 503-294-5955; firstname.lastname@example.org or www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/news/1192866902159980.xml&coll=7
Disciplining Oregon teachers
Complaints come from students, staff, parents. The process varies, but the district investigates the complaint while potentially putting the employee on paid or unpaid leave. Law enforcement officials may be involved.
By law, superintendents must file a letter of potential misconduct with the state commission, even if a superintendent is unsure whether a violation has been committed.
During the investigation, the employee may resign prior to a
conclusion or decision.