Posted: 10:13 p.m. Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2 Investigates: Discipline cases on the rise for state's teachers

Empty classroom (file)
Associated Press
Empty classroom (file)

By Eric Rasmussen

KTVU.com

OAKLAND, Calif. —

As California lawmakers consider a way to streamline the discipline process for teachers accused of the most serious offenses, the number of educators in trouble for a wide variety of misconduct is on the rise.

The latest annual report by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing shows the CTC opened more than 5800 potential discipline cases for the fiscal year 2012-2013, the highest number of new cases opened in the last five years.

Alcohol offenses most common

According to its annual report, the CTC opened more than 2400 cases related to alcohol offenses involving teachers last year, also a five year high. 

While teachers accused of sex related crimes receive some of the most attention, they represented just five percent of new cases.

Substance abuse, involving alcohol or drugs, made up 45 percent of new cases.

Tracking punishment

While records of disciplinary action taken against teachers by individual school districts are not publicly available, 2 Investigates examined more than 900 records of teachers who came before the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing in 2013. 

The discipline, defined by the CTC as "adverse actions," range from written warnings to revocation of a teacher's credential.  

Special-needs teacher Dina Holder was among those who had their teaching credentials revoked in 2013.

Eight families won an $8 million settlement from the Brentwood Union School District this year after a lawsuit claimed Holder abused some of her students.

"A six year old was pulled off of his chair, thrown onto the floor of the classroom, kicked several times on his back," said attorney Peter Alfert.

Jennifer Plummer says her daughter, Jordyn, came home with scratches and bruises, but Plummer says she wasn't told anything by the district when complaints first started to arise.  During that time, administrators moved Holder from Loma Vista Elementary to Krey Elementary School.

"Nothing was said to us", said Plummer.  "(We asked) why are we moving sites?  Oh, it's just a better classroom setting."

Brentwood Union Superintendent Dana Eaton told KTVU the district is committed to making student safety its number one priority.  The district has since increased training on mandated reporting and has partnered with the Child Abuse Prevention Council to provide training to every employee in the district.

Lesser misconduct, limited information

KTVU's database of teachers disciplined by the state revealed 68 sex related cases, 18 drug related cases, and 17 involving child abuse.

Yet the vast majority of cases recorded by the CTC, more than 700, provided no specifics.

2 Investigates filed an additional public records request for more information about 46 credential holders from the Bay Area and received documents for 12 of them, including Alexandra Porter. 

The sixth grade teacher at Borel Middle School in San Mateo had been getting in trouble for years before she resigned in 2011.

Among a list of complaints, records show Porter faced claims that she:

  • "Asked students to kiss her."
  • "Sent multiple e-mails and 'tweets' to students over summer vacation."
  • Asked a student, "are you on crack?"

The state suspended Porter's teaching credential for 90 days in December 2013.  Former neighbors of Porter say she moved out of the area, but it's not clear if she has returned to teaching somewhere else.

Proposed changes

Critics say dismissing a teacher can be a difficult and expensive process.

"You're looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in time and effort of administrative staff, of legal staff," said San Mateo Union High School District board member Peter Hanley.

Hanley says unions provide a level of protection to teachers beyond what other public employees receive.

However, the California Teachers Association is among the groups supporting California Assembly Bill 215 which aims to streamline the teacher dismissal process for school employees charged with the most serious offenses.

"Our number one concern is to protect children," said CTA Vice President Eric Heins.  "That teachers who are accused of crimes like sexual abuse are removed from the classroom immediately and that they don't get in front of children again."

AB 215 has also received the support of advocacy group Ed Voice.

"It's what's best for children and what's fair for the adults," said Ed Voice President Bill Lucia.  "There's been, we believe, an excessive amount of interest about the adults, about what's fair for the adults, but forgetting about the children."

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