PHOENIX — Teachers behaving badly but flying under the radar. There is a loophole in the way Arizona disciplines educators and it could be putting students at risk.
A Mesa teacher accused of sending sexually inappropriate messages over Instagram to an 18-year-old female student. A substitute in the Cartwright Elementary District accused of inappropriately touching sixth graders, and another substitute in Morenci accused of using excessive force on third graders.
These are just three of the more than two dozen certification enforcement actions that will go before the Board of Education at their next meeting on January 27. Those educators' teaching certificates, set to be suspended, surrendered or revoked, the incidents logged in a database to keep them away from the classroom.
However, there is a problem with the system that could allow certain personnel to get away with bad behavior and move from school to school undetected.
"We have no way of marking that on the record because they don't have a certificate for us to track that," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.
On Tuesday the Senate Education Committee unanimously moved SB 1048 forward. The bill allows the state to investigate, discipline and even permanently ban a non-certificated person convicted of "immoral or unprofessional" conduct. It also allows the state to share any investigative information with other schools, districts or agencies.
"With more and more awareness of how potential predators gain access to these populations, we as a state are taking more and more very necessary steps to close those loopholes and cut off that access," said Republican State Senator Kate Brophy McGee, who is sponsoring the bill.
The Arizona Department of Education is also pushing for more funding this session to double the investigators on staff. Right now the average caseload is about 150 with disciplinary action for some lower-risk offenses taking up to two years.
"We expect to get this across the finish line," said Brophy McGee.
The state board has taken action on 800 misconduct cases since January 2012. That is only about half of one percent of all certificated educators in Arizona.