Most teacher misconduct in Utah not reported to the state, auditor finds

State auditors are highlighting a problem that’s keeping out-of-line teachers, some of whom have hurt students, in classrooms. (Photo: KUTV FILE)

(KUTV) — State auditors are highlighting a problem that’s keeping out-of-line teachers, some of whom have hurt students, in classrooms.

“Clearly, there were cases that anyone would agree are quite egregious,” said John Dougall, the state auditor whose office released the report Wednesday.

“When you have a teacher throw a wrench that hits a student in the head, clearly, that’s a concern. Teacher coming to school intoxicated. Another teacher offering extra credit if a student would dress in a certain way and make sexually explicit-type comments. Teacher viewing pornography at school. These are clearly serious cases that need to be reported.”

Schools districts and charter schools are required by law to report certain misconduct to the Utah State Board of Education, but auditors found more often than not, the state isn’t notified.

They reviewed about 19 percent of personnel files at 20 schools to discover 28 allegations of misconduct had not been reported to the state over the past five years.

In an interview Wednesday, Dougall said one school district “was aware of the misconduct and failed to report that to the state board, and that teacher was able to quit and then get hired on with another LEA, where they then committed another act of misconduct.” (LEA is shorthand for local education agency, which is defined as a school district or charter school.)

The state board can reprimand a teacher who’s acted badly or even suspend or revoke licenses, which would keep them from finding another job in Utah schools.

“This is about protecting students,” Dougall said, “and I would not want to be that student or the parent of a student who school personnel were aware of certain behaviors and allowed it to continue.”

The Utah State Board of Education is planning to better train staff at schools statewide on reporting requirements, according to state superintendent of public instruction Sydnee Dickson.

“We’ve begun training and re-training our education leaders out in the field to make sure that they understand what needs to be reported, when it needs to be reported and how it needs to be reported,” Dickson said.

She said a new group called the Neutral Review Task Force was already in the process of being formed to address teacher misconduct. Members will look at the audit and make recommendations, Dickson said. They’re expected to begin meeting in January.

“The important message is that we care deeply about the safety of each student and want to make sure that we have policies and processes in place so that we tighten up any gaps that we have,” Dickson said.

Auditor Dougall recommended the state board conduct regular checks of school personnel records for compliance and implement a penalty for districts that fail to report teacher misconduct. No penalty currently exists, he said.

Superintendent Dickson said those may be recommendations that ultimately come from the new task force, which she said would also consider whether to further investigate any of the 28 unreported allegations of misconduct that auditors uncovered.

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