Teacher records mostly clean

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Only a handful of the 52,000 veteran educators forced to undergo background checks this year have been convicted of serious crimes, the state says.

Roughly 300 teachers were found to have some criminal history, though most convictions were minor, said Jim Miller, who oversees teacher licensing for the Ohio Department of Education. All remain in the classroom for now, even as some are being investigated by the state, Miller said. "Most of those were very minor things--DUIs or a 30-year-old disorderly conduct conviction," he said. "We had a handful that we had to take a look at further. They've been turned over to an investigator to follow up on."

It's unclear exactly how many teachers make up that "handful" or where they teach. Miller said he didn't know, and the investigator in charge wasn't immediately available.

Educators who have permanent or eight-year licenses were subject to the new background checks. For many, this might have been their first, because they started teaching before they were required.

The state will deactivate the licenses of about 1,900 educators who have retired, stopped teaching or are using another license that didn't require the emergency checks, Miller said. A dozen educators who were still teaching failed to submit their fingerprints. They will be prevented from teaching, too.

The checks matched educators' fingerprints against criminal histories maintained by the FBI and the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation. They were required by a law enacted in response to The Columbus Dispatch series "The ABCs of Betrayal" about the state's educator-discipline system. That law requires checks of both licensed employees, such as teachers, and unlicensed workers such as secretaries, bus drivers and food-service workers.

The checks were necessary, Miller said. "It helps us reassure parents and communities of Ohio that these teachers are law-abiding citizens and they are high moral characters," he said. Miller said he didn't know what the sweeping checks cost the state. Educators paid part of the price through fingerprinting and background fees, although those costs varied.

Ohio Education Association spokeswoman Michele Prater said that student safety is important, but the additional cost to teachers was a burden that should be the responsibility of the state "and not as an additional expense to the school employee."

The results of the checks affirm the union's confidence that the state has a strong student safety system, Prater said. The education association is Ohio's largest teachers union.

Sen. Joy Padgett, a Coshocton Republican who supported the bill to strengthen the way educators' backgrounds are examined, said she thinks the effort was worthwhile. "We're not talking about the vast majority of teachers. We've always been talking about a few. But it's worth doing just to protect the safety of kids," she said.