The Ohio Department of Education has seen a 69 percent increase in referrals for possible educator misconduct involving criminal or ethical violations during the past seven years — from 4,770 in 2005 to 8,068 in 2012, according to the latest annual report from the ODE’s Office of Professional Conduct.
The 2012 figure, though, was a 5.7 percent decrease from 2011 — only the second time the state has seen a decline in referrals since 2005. Referrals are for behaviors ranging from conduct unbecoming to more serious violent and drug offenses.
“It’s our prime responsibility to look out for the welfare of our students,” said Necia Nicholas, Mad River superintendent. “There’s no one immune in any way from accountability.”
According to a Dayton Daily News analysis, more than 200 educators associated with school districts in Montgomery, Greene, Miami and Warren counties have received some form of discipline since the Office of Professional Conduct was created in 1999, according to the state’s educator conduct database.
The area school district with the most disciplinary actions from the state is Dayton with 85. Dayton Public Schools has about 14,000 students and more than 600 full-time teachers, according to its 2012 district profile report.
“It’s probably comparable to other urban districts like ours,” said Jyllian Guerriero, the attorney for Dayton Public Schools. “But we’re always concerned about issues like that.”
Also in Montgomery County, Centerville has had 10 disciplinary actions; Huber Heights and West Carrollton have had eight cases each; and Northmont and Trotwood-Madison have had seven. In Greene County, Xenia and Fairborn have had 17 and 12 disciplinary actions, respectively.
There have been a few educators with criminal allegations against them in the past year. Notable cases include:
• Michael Weaver, a Centerville High School teacher, was sentenced in April to five years probation after pleading guilty to two counts of sexual battery against a student he had sexual contact with in the 2005-06 school year.
• Kelsey Hartmann, a Wayne High School teacher, was sentenced in September to five years probation after pleading guilty of one count of third-degree felony unlawful sexual conduct. Hartmann was caught performing a sex act on a student in her vehicle last November.
• Scott Rohrer, a Springfield-Clark Career Technology Center instructor, was sentenced in August to three years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of sexual battery for having a sexual relationship with a student on school grounds.
All three had their licenses permanently revoked by the ODE earlier this year — Weaver on May 14, and Hartmann and Rohrer both on Sept. 12.
“Nobody wants to see an incident like that happen that involves a student and teacher,” Huber Heights superintendent Sue Gunnell said. “One is too many.”
When accusations arise against a teacher, some schools conduct an internal investigation first to determine if the allegations are true. If they are true, the teacher is subject to discipline from the district and the case also will be referred to the ODE, school officials said.
Guerriero said Dayton Public Schools will conduct its own investigation concurrently with the ODE’s “because having these two processes of accountability is of no consequence to us if it’s unfounded. We just want to make sure we report it to be on the safe side.”
Steady referral increases throughout the years can be attributed to several sources, including changes to state law in the past decade that have allowed for greater accountability and tracking of state-licensed educators, said Lori Kelly, director of the ODE’s Office of Professional Conduct.
The creation of an applicant fingerprint database in 2008 by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and a change in state law requiring background checks every five years have helped lead to a higher rate of referrals.
“The system works,” Centerville superintendent Tom Henderson said. “It’s all about doing the right thing and being safe with our kids. But when (disciplinary actions) come up, it’s always disappointing and disheartening.”
Kelly said the state’s Licensure Code of Professional Conduct — adopted in 2008 — serves as the foundation for decisions on licensure, consistent with applicable law, and otherwise is a guide for conduct with professional implications, according to ODE.
“It gives us a checks and balances,” said Gary Walker, Fairborn’s director of student services and certified personnel. “Anyone in a public profession has to operate from a higher standard.”
Kelly said state law also outlines about 80 criminal offenses that require the automatic revocation of a license, including murder, reckless homicide, bribery and compelling prostitution.
Cases investigated by the Office of Professional Conduct only represent about 0.5 percent of the 185,000 licensed educators in Ohio. There were 959 referrals investigated by the ODE in 2012, down from the 2011 figure of 983 — the highest number since 2005.
After an allegation of misconduct is investigated, the State Board of Education can decide to take no disciplinary action; issue a letter of admonishment that doesn’t affect license status; or take more severe steps, including revoking a license or denying an application.
“The board decision is on a case-by-case basis,” Kelly said.
Staff writer Hannah Poturalski contributed to this story.
Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Ohio Educators
- Educators behave in a professional manner
- Educators maintain a professional relationship with all students at all times, both in and outside the classroom
- Educators accurately report information required by the local board of education or governing board, state education agency, federal agency or state or federal law
- Educators adhere to federal, state and local laws and statutes regarding criminal activity
- Educators comply with state and federal laws related to maintaining confidential information
- Educators serve as positive role models and do not use, possess or unlawfully distribute illegal or unauthorized drugs
- Educators ensure that school property, public funds or fees paid by students or the community are used in the best interest of students and not for personal gain
- Educators fulfill all of the terms and obligations in their employment contract
Source: Ohio Department of Education
Unmatched coverage: The Dayton Daily News is committed to covering education in the region. For this story, we reached out to more than 10 school districts in the area and closely analyzed the state’s educator conduct database.