Archive for Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kansas: BOE may toughen watch on felon teachers

August 14, 2013

— The Kansas State Board of Education may ask state lawmakers next year to strengthen a law that requires local prosecutors to notify the board of all felony convictions in their jurisdiction.

Board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, made that suggestion Tuesday after the board revoked the licenses of six Kansas teachers recently convicted of felony offenses, including four who were convicted of sex offenses against minors.

But agency officials said it's possible that many more cases are slipping through the cracks because only a small number of prosecutors — 14 of the state's 105 county prosecutors — have filed any reports with the department in the past two years.

"Without it, I think we have students at risk," Willard said.

Under state law, the state board is prohibited from knowingly granting or renewing a teacher's license to anyone convicted of a felony or who is known to have engaged in certain criminal conduct. The law also requires prosecutors to notify the board about felony convictions in their jurisdiction so those names can be cross-checked against the database of licensed educators.

But Cheryl Whelan, general counsel for the Department of Education, said the law does not provide any penalties for prosecutors who fail to comply with the reporting requirement. And despite efforts over the last two years to get more cooperation from prosecutors, the department still receives few reports from them.

"Obviously whatever we've done in the past is not getting the job done," Willard said. "We need to make it a higher priority for us."

According to data from the department, 14 counties have reported a total of 10,150 individuals who've been convicted of felonies since August 2011. Of those, 38 held educator licenses.

Whelan said some counties — especially small, rural counties — may not be filing reports because they haven't had any felony convictions in the past two years.

But noticeably absent from the list of counties reporting was Wyandotte County, the state's fourth-largest county, where there were more than 9,000 serious crimes reported in 2012 alone, according to FBI data. .

The Department of Education report said Douglas County reported 430 individuals convicted of felonies since August 2011, one of which held an educator license.

Sedgwick County, the state's largest county, reported 4,369 convictions during the two years, 15 of whom matched the state's teacher licensing database.

Meanwhile, the board heard a separate report Tuesday indicating that as many as 27 teachers are currently working in Kansas who have never applied for or been granted a teaching license.

State law prohibits public schools from employing unlicensed teachers. And since 2003, Kansas has required people applying for a license to submit fingerprints and undergo a criminal background check.

The report did not indicate which school districts were employing the unlicensed teachers. But Scott Myers, director of teacher education and licensure for the state, assured the board he would promptly notify the superintendents in those districts that they may not continue employing them.

Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker described that situation as "very scary."


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