The Virginia Department of Education formally asked almost 100 child protective service agencies in the state to ensure they’re properly reporting cases of sex abuse by public school teachers.
The superintendent of public instruction wrote and released the memo days after a News4 I-Team investigation revealed a failure by Arlington County Child Protective Services.
The I-Team found the agency failed to notify state officials to revoke the license of a former Arlington Public Schools teacher whom they investigated for sexually abusing a former third grade student. The teacher was able to work as an assistant principal in the Prince George’s County Public Schools district for years because of the error.
In his memo to child protective service agencies statewide, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven P. Staples said, “Without such notice, an individual who is the subject of a founded case of child abuse or neglect may continue to hold a teaching license in Virginia and possibly secure licensure and/or employment in another state.”
According to state education records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, a September 2013 investigation by Arlington County Child Protective Services found former Claremont Elementary School teacher Zevlin Staten sexually abused a third grade student in 2006. The state records said the abuse occurred inside a classroom closet and continued in successive years when the girl was in the fourth and fifth grades.
Police investigated Staten but said it didn’t have evidence to recommend criminal charges. Staten was not prosecuted. The records show he has denied the accusations from the outset. Staten maintains his innocence, according to his attorney. He declined to be interviewed by the I-Team.
The I-Team investigation also revealed Staten was better able to keep teaching, despite the finding of child abuse, because of a loophole in Virginia state law. The law allows teachers who appeal findings of sex abuse to maintain their teaching licenses and be removed from a state child abuse registry for the duration of their appeals. Staten’s appeal lasted almost two years.
State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) formally requested the Virginia Department of Social Services review its regulations to patch the loophole.
“I found your report very disturbing on multiple levels,” Favola said. “I think school systems need full information before they hire somebody.”
Favola said a child safety commission for which she serves as chairwoman will stage a formal hearing into the issue in September.
“Individuals are entitled to a due process procedure,” Favola said. “I certainly don’t want to violate that. But I want to provide as much information as possible to people who are hiring people who will be role models and leaders for children in our schools.”
Arlington County Department of Human Services officials, who oversee the county’s Child Protective Services agency, said they are not allowed to comment on the handling of specific cases. “The county will look into and address any report that a required notification was not received and also ensure that its protocols are updated,” an agency spokesman said in a statement to the I-Team.
The Arlington County Department of Human Services said it would support efforts to close any loophole in state child safety regulations.
“Arlington County is committed to the health, safety and well-being of children, and would be supportive of any effort to improve and strengthen protections for them,” a spokesman said. “This would include pursuing regulatory changes, better information sharing by state agencies, or, if necessary, advocating for legislative action at the state level.”
Staten’s case was discovered languishing in October 2016 by Arlington Public Schools. A school district spokeswoman said officials became aware Staten was teaching in Prince George’s County and began an inquiry.
Staten resigned his position as an assistant principal at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Prince George’s County Public Schools in January 2017.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.