Board proposes stronger sanctions for teachers


Maryland school teachers accused of wrongdoing no longer will be able to resign quietly, save their teaching certificates and perhaps find jobs in different school districts, under proposed regulations discussed yesterday by the state Board of Education.

The rules would allow the state superintendent to revoke or suspend the license of a teacher who, in violation of state law, knowingly fails to report suspected child abuse.

They also would allow the superintendent to revoke or suspend the license of a teacher who is dismissed or resigns after being notified that he or she is under investigation.

"If you told me you were going to investigate me for child abuse, and I said, 'I quit,' at that point, there was nothing we could do to take away their license," said A. Skip Sanders, assistant superintendent for certification and accreditation.

"Many people used to escape our grasp that way," he added. "It ends a practice that had gone on for a while, I guess, with the best of intentions -- not prosecuting to avoid further pain to the child who was the victim, but not thinking of the pain or harm that could be caused to children in other places."

Under the proposal, Dr. Sanders could begin the process to suspend or revoke a teaching certificate while an individual was on paid leave or suspension during an investigation of alleged wrongdoing. Current regulations prevent Dr. Sanders from intervening until a teacher is no longer employed.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for March 29, and the state school board is to vote on it at its April 26-27 meeting.

Under regulations adopted in 1989, the state can revoke a

teaching certificate only after a teacher is convicted of a serious crime, such as child abuse or neglect, or contributing to the delinquency of a minor and sexual abuse of a child.

In drug cases, a judge rules on whether to revoke the teaching certificate. No judge has revoked a teacher's license, according to documents obtained by The Sun under the Freedom of Information Act.

Only nine Maryland teachers have ever lost certificates due to misconduct, according to state records, even though many more have quit or been fired for offenses as serious as child abuse. A task force had been reviewing the matter for several months before perhaps the best illustration of the problem came to light with the arrest in April of Anne Arundel County teacher Ronald W. Price on charges of child sex abuse.

Although Price admitted on national television he had sex with students, the state Board of Education could not revoke his teaching license until after his conviction in September. Unlike Price, most teachers accused of misconduct leave quietly with negotiated resignations that skirt the reason for their departure and leave their certificates intact. With a valid teaching certificate and no criminal conviction, that teacher could be hired by an unsuspecting school system.

The state school board got its first look at the proposed changes in October but sent them back to the task force that drafted them to toughen them up, Dr. Sanders said.

The state board also asked the committee to include a procedure for reinstating a teacher's license, Dr. Sanders said. "We don't want a teacher whose license was revoked because of child abuse to be able to teach again," he said. But he wondered what to do about a teacher convicted of a minor offense who has been rehabilitated and who is again "a positive upstanding member of the community."

"Wouldn't you think that sort of person deserved a second chance at working in a classroom?" Dr. Sanders asked.

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