State law loophole allows predator teachers to stay in class

Published:
Updated:

Story highlights:

  • Principals not obligated to pass on parental complaints to state investigators
  • State investigators had no clue about complaints against teachers before high-profile arrests.
  • Lawmakers pledge to take action on 10 Investigates findings

 

BROKEN TRUST

“It's not so much about what had happened, it's about the trust that he had broken. I trusted him. He was my teacher,” said former Riverside High School (DeGraff, Ohio) student Laraleigh Kerns.DeGraff, Ohio) student Laraleigh Kerns.

10TV does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but Kerns agreed to be identified to get the word out about the sexual abuse she endured.

Band teacher Tim Shook was sentenced to a total of 9 years state prison for crimes including sexual battery.   In Miami County, parents complained about Shook 's alleged inappropriate behavior with students. Shook left that district and got a job with the Riverside Music Department. Logan County parents had no way of knowing about past complaints against Shook. Three years later, Logan County's prosecutor charged him with sexual battery for abusing students.  Ultimately, Miami County also charged Shook for abusing students as well.

“There were reports if the school would have said something about it. Done something about it, he wouldn’t have had another opportunity to do what he had done at Riverside,” added Kerns.

“I understand Riverside [High School] held him accountable, but what about the other schools? Why didn't they hold him accountable?” said Michelle Tussing, Kern’s mother.

“MY CHILD SHUT DOWN”

Open up one Arrowhead Elementary yearbook from 2010-2011, turn to the page for teacher Matthew Rausenberg’s 2nd grade class, and the teacher’s picture is cut out while another picture of him is crossed out with a pen. This yearbook, obtained by 10 Investigates belonged to a former second grader. It’s now in the hands of Chris and Stacy, the parents of that second grader now living in Columbus. Because of the sexual nature of the crimes, 10 Investigates is not identifying their child.

"There was competition in that classroom to see who got to rub his back, who got to sit on his lap… Then there was this marriage ceremony when he married two little girls in the class,” said Stacy, last name withheld to protect their child’s identity.

Rausenberg will spend the rest of his life in prison for molesting elementary students at Olentangy Local School’s Arrowhead Elementary.

Chris and Stacy complained to Arrowhead Elementary principal Nadine Ross about what their 2nd grade daughter was going through in 2010, five years before Rausenberg's arrest. They both recalled Ross told them “That’s just his way of relating to children” and “everybody loves him.”

The Phillips say they were one of the luckier families. They believe the affection Rausenberg showed their daughter didn't include her being sexually violated. Whatever the second-grader experienced is still giving her nightmares.

“My child shut down after that year," added Stacy

INACTION LEAD TO MORE VICTIMS

School principals collected parental complaints about Rausenberg since 2007 according to a lawsuit filed by 3 families with children formerly enrolled at Arrowhead Elementary.

Luke Carlisle replaced Nadine Ross as principal of Arrowhead elementary in 2011. Carlisle gave Rausenberg a written warning for inappropriate touching of students in 2012.

"In that instance when that was reported, that was when we did do and it resulted in an official investigation, written warning, placed in his file,  and we did counsel the former teacher about the boundaries that he established with his students," explained Olentangy Chief of Administrative Services Randy Wright when asked about the parental lawsuit.

10 Investigates discovered that report on Rausenberg was never passed on to state regulators at the Ohio Department of Education. Rausenberg was supposed to be more closely monitored by the principal. That did not happen.

Prinicipal Carlisle's personnel report obtained by 10 Investigates showed he was flagged for rarely monitoring teachers, with only 2 classroom visits in one semester, during the critical period just before Rausenberg's March 2015 arrest.

Both principals, Nadine Ross and Luke Carlisle, did not respond to 10 Investigates requests for an interview.

Ross did release a statement denying any wrongdoing, ““My top priority when I was principal was to keep students safe.  This predator worked hard to deceive everyone and avoid our many safeguards.  It’s important to remember that this criminal is 100 percent responsible for all of this. I never had a report of any criminal behavior about this former teacher.  If I had, I would have followed our long-established protocol of reporting him to child welfare authorities.”

On April 6th, Olentangy Local Schools agreed to an interview with 10 Investigates to explain their actions. April 7th, three families sued the school district and its two past principals for failing to act on parental warnings about Rausenberg as early as 2007. On April 11th, the district canceled its interview with 10 Investigates .

The prosecutor who convicted Rausenberg says the delays in stopping him victimized even more children.

"He appeared to be grooming these girls and a number of these girls - up to five a year as far back as we could tell,” said Delaware County Prosecuting Attorney Carol O’Brien.

THE LEGAL LOOPHOLE

State law says that schools must tell the Ohio Department of Education if a teacher is accused of a criminal act, or if a teacher is being fired. But schools don't have to tell the state if inappropriate behavior happens - unless criminal charges are filed, or a teacher resigns or is terminated.”

Ohio Revised Code 3326.24 (B) (2) and (3) states that a school is only obligated to pass on complaints of a teacher’s conduct under four conditions: the teacher’s resignation, termination, contract non-renewal or “initiated termination proceedings.” A school principal makes the decision to initiate termination proceedings. If the principal decides they do not want to fire a teacher, teachers with questionable behavior can move from school to school with parents and districts being none the wiser.

"If the complaints aren't being treated with the most concern and the utmost priority, then there needs to be another set of eyes," said Reynuka Mayadev, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund.

ONE OF NINE

Even if parental complaints get to the Ohio Department of Education, chances are, nothing will be done. In 2014 alone, ODE received 9,087 requests to investigate teachers. They investigated just 997 of those complaints. And out of those, the state took action in 676 cases.

The state defends that investigation rating saying the majority of those cases are applicants with non-felony criminal records not worthy of a full investigation. “Or we may have some come in anonymously and they don't identify a person. So some of those are not investigated,” explained Lori Kelly, Director of the Office of Professional Conduct at the Ohio Department of Education.

LAWMAKERS WEIGH IN

“What it makes me feel, is we obviously have to make some changes to the system to make sure the data is properly tracked," said Andrew Brenner, Republican state representative from Powell, chair of the Ohio House Education Committee.

“It seems to me to be a failure at the local level primarily. If we're going to rely on the state board that gets together once a month and has limited staff to be disciplining, or staying on top of discipline in the schools across the state, we're going to have a lot of kids falling through the cracks,. said Peggy Lehner, Republican state senator leading the Ohio Senate Education Committee, when shown 10 Investigates findings.

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO

The Ohio Department of Education instructs parents concerned their complaint is not receiving action at the school level, “If all the options have not worked, the parent can send the complaint with specific details in writing to our office. OPC will then review the information to determine if we will open a case and investigate the allegations.” To make a complaint, call 877-644-6338 or write:

Ohio Department of Education

25 South Front Street
Columbus, Ohio
43215-4183

“We follow stringent reporting practices that go above and beyond what is required by state law. This includes immediate reporting to Children Service agencies, law enforcement, and the Ohio Department of Education. In addition, because the state process can be slow and cumbersome, we also take immediate action ourselves when we learn of a problem with a staff member. This allows us to act more quickly than other state agencies can,” said Devon Immelt with Olentangy Local Schools when asked to answer what action the district is taking after the Rausenberg conviction.

While declining to interview with 10 Investigates, Olentangy Local Schools Superintendent Mark Raiff released this video to parents Thursday night.