Ohio Department of Education can take months, years to punish teachers

Ohio DOE can take months, years to punish teachers
Delays in Ohio education system disciplining teachers
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COLUMBUS – One teacher charged with stalking women did not have his teaching license revoked by the Ohio Department of Education until two years later.

Another accused of dragging a student did not have her license revoked by the state until a year and four months after being fired from her district.

The same is true for others who have been accused of lying about past convictions, caught in inappropriate relationships with students, or accused of other misconduct – 10 Investigates found these educators have held onto their licenses for months – sometimes years – after being fired or resigning from their districts.

One of the lengthier examples – principals, teachers and administrators caught up in a grade-changing and data scandal from the 2010-2011 school year that rocked Columbus City Schools are only now receiving their punishments by the Ohio Department of Education – three to four years after many were questioned, reprimanded or removed by CCS.

The months-long investigation by 10 Investigates has also uncovered other examples where Ohio educators who had been removed from the classroom but are still holding onto their licenses and have yet to be punished.

That gap leaves parents of victimized students without answers, keeps teachers under investigation in limbo and forces local school districts to have to more thoroughly vet potential hires, educators and background experts acknowledge.

It’s important to note – according to state education officials – that the vast majority of educators in Ohio are not facing discipline and are often performing noble work in the classroom.

But state data shows over the past 20 years, there have been thousands of educators caught doing something wrong – and the punishments aren’t always swift.

Using publicly available data from the Ohio Department of Education, 10 Investigates reviewed a sampling of 250 discipline cases of Ohio educators using zip codes throughout central Ohio.

Some of what we found:

At least 36 cases took more than a year before the Ohio Department Education took action. Some took as long as 4 to 6 years.

52 cases were resolved in less than a year. A couple were resolved in a matter of days, but many were not resolved for 6 to 10 months after the district had dismissed the teachers.

Most of the remaining cases were resolved by letters of admonishment, consent agreements or suspensions, meaning it only shows the date on which the teacher was disciplined, and makes it difficult to tell how long the department had been investigating.

10 Investigates set out to find what’s created and what’s being done to address this “Waiting Game.”

Some teachers still haven’t been punished

As State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria told 10 Investigates, the vast majority of educators in Ohio are doing the right thing in the classroom and present no trouble to students.

But state data shows there have been thousands of others who have not.

And some of those educators are still licensed to teach despite being fired or resigning from their local districts.

“You don’t want to see that happen to your child,” Bonnie McKean told 10 Investigates during a recent interview.

School surveillance video from Crestline Elementary in Crawford County Bonnie’s son, Corbin, who has autism, being carried and later dragged by his teacher, Hannah Ruth, and teacher’s aide, Heather Gregory.

McKean says the incident began in May of 2017 on the playground at school. She acknowledges that her son can have “meltdowns” and that in this case he was being disobedient.

But McKean says the two educators went too far when security video showed her son being dragged down the hallway of the school.

"It's a good thing I was in a police station (when I saw it) because I couldn't control my emotions,” McKean told 10 Investigates.

The Crawford County prosecutor presented the case to a grand jury, which chose not to pursue criminal charges. But the prosecutor’s office did write a letter to the Ohio Department of Education in July of 2017 stating that “everyone was upset” and asking the Ohio Department of Education to investigate.

Bonnie McKean says that an investigator from ODE wrote her a letter the next month, asking for her cooperation. But after two phone conversations with that person, McKean says she has heard nothing. It’s been a year.

The Ohio Department of Education’s website shows no disciplinary action has been taken against either teacher. Ruth did not respond to a reporter’s repeated attempts to reach her. Gregory declined to comment when a reporter approached her at her Crestline home only saying: “I can’t talk about it.” She declined to name her attorney.

"When they are not being disciplined by the Ohio Department of Education, it's almost like they've gotten away with it,” McKean said.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education said she could not confirm or deny the status of the investigation into this matter.

10 Investigates found there are other teachers who have been fired or placed on unpaid leave who have not been disciplined by the state.

Matthew Craycraft resigned last summer after four months on the job at Jonathan Alder High School. District officials learned Craycraft had answered “no” on two previous teaching applications with the state that he had never been convicted of a crime.

Records show Craycraft had been accused of peering over the dividers at a woman at tanning salon but told a Marion County sheriff’s deputy in 2007 that once he realized it was not his girlfriend “stopped looking and ducked down.”

Craycraft pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of persistent disorderly conduct in 2008. After school district learned of this, Craycraft resigned the in summer of 2017.

Craycraft did speak with a 10 Investigates reporter by phone, but declined to be interviewed. He did acknowledge that his case is still being investigated by the ODE and that no disciplinary action has been taken 10 months later.

A science teacher, Tyler Allen, was placed on unpaid leave in November of 2017 by Campbell City schools in northeast Ohio after he was charged in Pennsylvania with aggravated indecent assault without consent for an alleged incident involving a woman he met on a dating app. Allen told authorities “he was very respectful” but the woman alleged that while part of their evening involved consensual acts, she says she later told Allen “no” repeatedly and alleges she was assaulted. Allen’s criminal case in Pennsylvania is still pending, but the Pennsylvania Department of Education has suspended Allen’s teaching license.

The Ohio Department of Education has taken no action.

Superintendent Matthew Bowen with Campbell City schools forwarded 10 Investigates a copy of the letter he sent ODE in December alerting them that he had begun the termination process for Allen and that he was being placed on unpaid leave.

“Current superintendents are reporting, and I believe the department is somewhat overwhelmed by the reports they received. It's my hope we just always keep kids safe,” Bowen told 10 Investigates.

Why the delay?

In an interview with 10 Investigates this week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria said that the reason why some of these disciplinary cases drag on is because of state law – which requires due process and allows teachers the ability to ask for a hearing prior to them being punished.

“Due process rights are fundamental, have to be preserved, does that mean that some cases take a long time, Yes,” he said.

When asked if what we uncovered was acceptable – that teachers hold onto their licenses for months, sometimes years, after being fired, DeMaria said: “As I have said before, there is this fundamental American democratic principle of due process right. At the tail end of that -- we can lament the fact that it took a year - but we have to uphold some of those things.”

State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria says his department is always looking for ways to improve. He added that cases that take a long time are often indicative of a teacher trying to defend his or her license -- and make up only a small percentage.

State data shows an increase in referrals

But the Ohio Department of Education’s own data shows that from 2006 to 2016, the number of referrals the department has received has remained on a steady increase - topping 11,537 referrals in 2016. Still, the percentage of cases that actually lead to a referral has remained about the same.

Source: Ohio Department of Investigations

“Considering the volume of cases that we manage – obviously we are concerned – but we have to be attentive to due process, otherwise our actions don't stick and people are restored to their capabilities because we violate due process rights,” DeMaria said.

State law requires due process

Ohio law sets no requirement that the Ohio Department of Education must act quickly to discipline a teacher.

The same is true for surrounding states.

According to an ODE spokeswoman:

There is no statutory time frame for when discipline is issued. Once an investigation is complete, the state superintendent reviews the results of the investigation to determine if disciplinary action is warranted. The amount of time it takes to impose disciplinary action is determined by what type of discipline is imposed.

  • For automatic revocation/denial orders, they are issued as soon as the Department receives certified copies of the conviction involving an absolute bar offense.
  • For letters of admonishment or consent agreements, disciplinary action is imposed after the discipline is negotiated between the Department and the educator/educator’s attorney.
  • If an educator signs a voluntary surrender, the surrender is presented at the next available state board meeting for adoption.

For cases that proceed to a hearing, a final disciplinary action does not occur until the hearing is held, the hearing officer issues a report and recommendation, the statutory time period for the educator to file objections has expired, and the state board reviews the case and issues a disciplinary decision. The formal hearing process can take several months to ensure all statutory due process rights are afforded to an educator.

Calls for change

Rep. Teresa Fedor, D – District 45, which covers Toledo, points to a recent example in her own district as to prove that change is needed.

“(Discipline) needs to be done professionally, with best practices and with urgency,” Fedor told 10 Investigates during an interview in her Columbus office Tuesday.

Fedor pointed to the case of Patrick Hickey, a former teacher and superintendent who resigned from the Washington local school board in March, but not before women came forward before the school board in January, alleging that they had been victimized by Hickey in other districts.

Hickey pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct in a Michigan courtroom on May 9th, admitting in court that he touched a 15-year old student’s buttocks for his own sexual gratification. A Lenawee County prosecutor told 10 Investigates Hickey is set to be sentenced on June 21st.

Fedor says a private investigator should be credited with building a case against Hickey, which was later turned over to authorities and resulted in a conviction.

Fedor says if teachers go unpunished at the local level, it allows them to bounce from district to district. Not punishing teachers swiftly at the state level, would also legally allow teachers to apply for new positions.

Despite resigning from his board in March and pleading guilty earlier this month, the Ohio Department of Education had not revoked Hickey’s administrative or teaching licenses.

That was until hours before 10 Investigates report aired on Thursday. A reporter had previously questioned the department about if it had planned to discipline Hickey’s license. Fedor said her office had called as well.

“ODE's response when my office checked was they are waiting to see what happens in Michigan,” Fedor said on Tuesday.

A department spokeswoman notified 10 Investigates Thursday afternoon that it had, in fact, revoked Hickey’s license through an administrative action – which ODE has the authority to do but doesn’t always utilize.

Fedor says she is working to craft a bill that would help better protect children from abusers and potentially shine a light on problems with the administrative process.

What exactly is in a background check?

Zuni Corkerton, owner of RefCheck, a background check business, says parents should not be complacent in thinking that a local school district is thoroughly vetting all candidates.

She says what happened to Bonnie McKean’s son, Corbin, would not show up on a background check because no charges were filed.

“I think parents need to start asking a lot of questions... of the boards of education because they need to confirm what is being done right now,” Corkerton said.

McKean said: “It’s gotta change.”