Teacher misconduct in Utah: State's rate more than double the national average

Sex abuse by teachers is plaguing U.S. schools

Published: Sunday, Oct. 21 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

The evidence isn't pretty — criminal indictments for raping children, pornographic films hidden in a school ceiling and online chats soliciting sex from 13-year-olds.

The Utah State Board of Education has heard it all.

Every few months, in closed-door meetings, the board decides whether a teacher's license should be suspended or revoked.

While some educators lose their licenses for theft, substance abuse or fraud, an Associated Press analysis shows most suspensions or revocations are related to sexual misconduct. Utah's incident rate is more than double the national average.

Utah's figures were gathered as part of a seven-month investigation in which AP reporters sought records on teacher discipline in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

From 2001 through 2005, the state board suspended or revoked 108 teacher licenses. Of those, 57 were the result of sexual misconduct, including sexual relations with students, viewing pornography at school or

criminal charges tied to off-campus sex crimes involving children.

Nearly 75 percent of Utah's sexual misconduct cases involving students or other minors involved physical contact.

"That makes me extremely uncomfortable. You're talking to a person who quite frequently checks to see within my ZIP code how many (sexual) predators are in the area," said Stacie Lawrence, who has four children in schools in Salt Lake City.

"You'd think people who go into teaching wouldn't want to go into it to harm children," she said.

Young victims

Across the country, sexual misconduct allegations led states to take action against the licenses of 2,570 educators during the five-year period. That figure includes licenses that were revoked, denied and surrendered.

Young people were victims in at least 69 percent of the cases, and the large majority of those were students. Nine out of 10 of those abusive educators were male. And at least 446 of the abusive teachers had multiple victims.

There are about 3 million public school teachers in the United States.

"We'd love to see all teachers be perfect, but all teachers are not perfect," said Utah school board Chairman Kim Burningham. "I think it is an indication of the extent of the problem we have in our whole society, and teachers are a reflection of that problem."

Numerous other licenses were suspended before any sex act occurred, cited by the state for violating boundaries of student-teacher relationships.

"It might be something less if someone's sending inappropriate e-mails or sexual flirtations. There's the guy who had girls jump up and down before he would give them their homework back," said board attorney and chief investigator Jean Hill. "It's that kind of stupid action. Maybe someone leaves notes on a student's car or is violent with a student."

The AP review shows Utah ranks 16th in the number of license suspensions or revocations for sexual misconduct.

Nationwide, 26 percent of actions taken on teaching licenses were related to sexual misconduct. In Utah it was 52.7 percent. In a state where about one out of every five residents is enrolled in a public school, many find the statistics jarring.

"It shocks me," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, a police officer and Republican lawmaker from Herriman who has sponsored legislation to impose the death penalty for some twice-convicted sex offenders.

"It's sad that we're that high up, that Utah, a state where family values mean something, a state where we're conservative and morality is important," Wimmer said.

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