Team 10: Is California hiding teacher misconduct history from parents?

Posted at 7:59 AM, May 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-19 23:40:46-04

SAN DIEGO - Want to learn more about whether your doctor, contractor or even your hair stylist has ever done anything so bad the state punished them?

You can find that information online.

But what about your child's teacher?

No dice.

When three people at Mar Vista High School were arrested on sex-related charges, Team 10 wanted to know more.

View Team 10 database

Was there a documented history that could have prevented these crimes? Was there something parents could do to protect their children at school?

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing's function is to inspire, educate and protect the students of California. The agency is responsible for issuing teaching credentials and denying, suspending or revoking them if necessary.

Its website promises the public immediate access to teacher credential and discipline information, but a Team 10 investigation found the information is, in many cases, incomplete and unclear.

"This isn't transparent," said education advocate Judy Nuefeld-Fernandez.

Neufeld-Fernandez, a mom and credentialed California teacher, added, "They're keeping offenses under wraps essentially so that parents are not empowered to protect their kids."

What Information the State Provides

The state agency maintains a database containing the names of around 682,000 people with an active teaching credential.

They offer a "public search" button, where people using the commission's online application can enter the credential holder's first and last name, and get a glimpse into their California teaching history.

If an educator has been disciplined, the commission notes the action taken against their credential, but doesn't provide information about what the educator did wrong to warrant any type of punishment.

The site only shows the final disciplinary decision.

A commission spokesperson told Team 10 the commission is limited by statute regarding what information can be provided to the public regarding educator discipline.

"Specifically, Education Code Section 44245 allows us to release only final disciplinary actions, Education Code Section 44230 provides a specific and limited list of credentialing information that can be released without a court order, and Education Code Section 44248 makes it a misdemeanor to release information received at a commission or committee meeting or hearing or through the investigation of a teacher without authorization," the spokesperson said.

Parents can get a little more information if they're willing to sift through hundreds of pages of consent agendas posted on the commissions website, but the state offers no master list to simplify the process.

The commission says a "master list" for each year would be duplicative of the information on the six consent calendars published each year, and would not provide any additional benefits.

Since they don't provide an easy-to-use database, Team 10 built one using the commission's published information.

This list contains names found in the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing's general session consent calendars. Team 10 was directed to the consent calendars by CTC staff: "There isn't an annual summary of all the names. However, the Commission votes on final disciplinary actions at their meetings, which occur every other month. You can go to the meetings page on our website, select a particular commission meeting, and look for the item labeled approval of the (month) consent calendar. That will have a list of all actions the Commission approved at that meeting."

It does not contain names of those who faced automatic suspension and in most cases those who chose to "self-revoke." This list may contain names of people who have appealed and won reversing their adverse action or are currently appealing the commission's decision. It is original information/raw data provided by the state on its website. The locations listed may not indicate where the individual currently resides or their school district. The locations were provided by the CTC, however the CTC does not track the employment status of every credential holder in California and there is no requirement for credential holders to inform the Commission as to where they work.

"The system's broken with respect to transparency,” said San Diego attorney Stephen Estey.

The commission also doesn't track the employment status of credential holders in California.

The agency said there is no requirement for credential holders to inform the commission with where they work.

Officials say, "In the past, teachers were issued lifetime credentials. Since they didn't have to renew, they often do not contact us to report changes in address, including when they leave the state. Even among newer teachers whose credentials have five-year terms, there is no legal requirement that they keep their address up to date or notify us between renewals if their situation changes."

Different Approach

In California, the Department of Consumer Affairs allows the public to verify the licenses of more than 40 professions.

The search function allows the public to see whether any disciplinary actions have taken place. In some cases, the state provides detailed information on why it took action.

Some states have taken a similar approach.

Around a dozen education departments across the country offer some sort of a master list or online searchable database of teachers who've been disciplined.

In Ohio, you can search by name, school district, and ZIP code.

In Florida, an educator's last name or district will bring up information about a disciplinary action, when it took place and in some cases includes the paperwork describing any violations.

"This is one more safety measure that needs to be done in order to empower parents," said Neufeld-Fernandez.

According to the commission, there were 295,025 teachers working in California schools in the 2014-2015 school year.

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