A junior high school teacher employed by a Utah district was arrested, after a one-year undercover investigation, for dealing drugs. The district fired him and the state Office of Education revoked his certification.
In subsequent legal action, the judicial system agreed to expunge the teacher's criminal record in exchange for his identifying others involved in illegal drug activities. Although his information proved of little value to law enforcement agencies, the man's record was expunged as if he had never committed a crime. He sued for the return of his certification so he could go back to teaching.School officials and some legislators believe children should be protected against individuals who are involved in drug or sex crimes, even if the records of those convicted have been expunged. Other legislators say that allowing school officials to be privy to information that has been wiped from the legal record discriminates against teachers as a class.
The only other group in society whose records are subject to disclosure despite expungement are law enforcement officers.
The Legislature's Interim Education Committee debated the issue Tuesday and by a one-vote margin refrained from giving its stamp of approval to a proposed bill that would allow school officials to retain criminal information on teachers even after expungement. Law enforcement agencies would be required to report to a school district and the state Office of Education the arrest of any teacher for drug or sex crimes.
Douglas Bates, legal and legislative adviser to the State Office of Education, said teachers are protected by confidential due process provisions that would allow them to explain offenses that occurred when they were young or that involved special circumstances. He said passage of the bill would protect schoolchildren against "mobile molesters" who get into trouble in one place and simply move to another. He said studies indicate that the average child molester abuses 177 children over a lifetime.
Bates also argued that many sex and drug crimes are not properly classified and that plea bargaining allows even those who confess guilt to face lesser charges or get off entirely. Using conviction or felony status as standards for taking disciplinary actions against teachers may expose children to risks, he said.
The proposed bill would allow for expungement of records for all purposes except certification. The proposed draft is a compromise worked out by a task force, said Rep. Michael G. Waddoups, R-Salt Lake, who reported to the education committee. Task force members wrestled with the same issues of balancing the protection of children against the protection of teacher rights, he said.
Rich Townsend, director of the Bureau of Criminal Identification, said his bureau had been concerned at the paperwork that would be required if expungement records, which "are received every day," had to be combed to see if they involved teachers. He said he also feared a constitutional question if teachers were singled out for such treatment, but the bill is written in a way to answer these concerns.
Rep. Grant Protzman, D-Ogden, noted that many people are arrested but that many are not actually charged or convicted of crimes. He said teachers could be the victims of discrimination even if they had been inappropriately arrested and if no crime was ever proved. Unsupported assertions of criminal activity could taint their
records and create employment difficulties, he said.
The bill is expected to receive further consideration during the upcoming session.