SALT LAKE CITY — A new state audit sheds light on local schools failing to report inappropriate conduct of educators to state licensing officials, which means problem educators avoid discipline and can readily move to other schools.
"Because these cases were not reported, the Utah State Board of Education's ability to manage and control educator licensure is diminished, and some educators have likely avoided USBE‐imposed discipline," says a performance audit by the Office of the State Auditor released Wednesday.
According to the audit, some examples of misconduct that likely should have been reported to the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission include:
• Sexually harassing female students, including touching the neckline of a female student’s shirt.
• Viewing pornography on a district computer.
• Pretending to cut a student with a box cutter and unintentionally cutting the student.
• Offering extra credit to female students if they dress in a certain way and making sexually‐charged comments to female students.
• Placing hands on a student in anger and placing the student against the wall.
• Disciplining a student by throwing a wrench at a student, which struck the student in the head.
• Slapping a student in the face.
• Physically fighting with a student.
• Coming to school under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
• Making sexually harassing statements, including expressing a desire to watch two female students kiss in class.
Auditors discovered 58 cases of alleged educator misconduct that, based on available documentation, "should have been reported to UPPAC for investigation as required by law."
This is an average of nearly six unreported cases per year over about 10 years.
Auditors sampled 19 percent of educators during the five‐year period from 2013‐2018.
"We found 28 cases of alleged misconduct that likely should have been reported and only 17 that were actually reported," the audit states.
The audit also found that information regarding past educator misconduct is not readily accessible to schools.
However, the audit also concluded that the State School Board's licensing discipline has improved.
Auditors expressed concern about older disciplinary actions — one a decade old in which a teacher "exchanged inappropriate written communications with a student, including communications with sexual content. This educator received a two‐year license suspension," the audit states.
Recent cases in Idaho and Oregon in which teachers exchanged inappropriate text messages resulted in state officials revoking the educators' teaching license, the audit says.
More recently, the Utah State Board of Education has implemented rules "that provide discipline presumptions for different categories of misconduct. These presumptions appear to provide both consistency and a higher degree of discipline for certain categories of misconduct," the audit states.
The presumptions and the State School Board's specific actions taken in more recent cases "still are not excessive as compared to other states' discipline," the audit says.
Other states have revoked teaching licenses for unprofessional boundary violations with students.
"In a more recent Utah case, an educator's license was suspended for five years for engaging in extensive boundary violations with a student, including calling and texting the student, giving the student gift cards and meeting with the student outside of school," according to the audit.
However, the audit concedes "a perfect comparison of cases is difficult as each case is fact specific in determining appropriate discipline."
In a written response to the audit, Alisa Ellis, State School Board vice chairwoman, wrote that the board is committed to using its resources to investigate educator misconduct and holding schools accountable.5 comments on this story
However, she wrote that comparing cases and disciplinary outcomes in other states to Utah cases is difficult due to a lack of detail and each case of alleged misconduct is "fact specific."
Due process is important in each case, she said.
The State School Board "is focused on providing a safe and positive learning environment for every student in the state and anticipates a comprehensive review of disciplinary presumptions through a Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission review group, which the (State School Board) has approved and is in process of establishing," Ellis wrote.