Virginia legislators formally proposed a series of new legislative efforts to ensure teachers are promptly stripped of their licenses for sexually assaulting students, following a recent News4 I-Team investigation, which showed Fairfax County Public Schools waited years before revoking the teaching licenses of four educators who engaged in sexual misconduct.
Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) is proposing a budget increase for the Virginia Department of Education Division of Teacher Education and Licensure, which helps investigate teachers accused of sexual misconduct. The agency would benefit from additional money and staffing to help ensure local schools are not allowing teachers to slip through the cracks, Howell said.
“We take very seriously keeping the children of Virginia safe. We have to act,” Howell said.
Del. David Bulova (D-Chantilly) is proposing a separate law, which would require school districts notify the Virginia Department of Education 10 days after initiating an investigation of a teacher suspected of misconduct. Current law only requires school districts notify the state after a teacher is convicted of a crime, Bulova said.
“We shouldn't leave it to the school system to decide ‘When has it gotten bad enough to report it?'" Bulova said.
Bulova and Howell both said they learned of the oversights and potential risks of languishing teacher license cases after watching the recent series of News4 I-team reports on Fairfax County Public Schools.
The I-Team review found at least four teachers accused of sexual improprieties in Fairfax County Public Schools between 2004 and 2006 who lost their jobs but escaped with their teaching licenses intact. The school district failed to initiate the formal license revocation process in three of those cases until 2012, including the lurid misconduct case of former Hayfield Secondary teacher Brad Norton.
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In a fourth case, one teacher’s license revocation paperwork was never completed by Fairfax County Public Schools. Instead the cancellation process was initiated by an inspector with the Virginia Department of Education in September 2016, after the inspector spotted the languishing case while researching records for the I-Team surrounding the Norton case.
Norton, who pleaded guilty to assaulting a male student at Hayfield in 2004, avoided prison time. The I-Team found Fairfax County Public Schools failed to properly submit paperwork to state regulators to revoke Norton’s teaching license. Norton declined to comment when reached by the I-Team.
Norton landed a new teaching job in Baltimore County in 2007 and was arrested in October 2012, accused of sexually assaulting a student at Randallstown High School. Police reports and internal school district memos and letters obtained by the I-Team showed similarities between the two cases. In both, Norton was accused of touching the boys on their stomachs and pants, after asking each boy if they “worked out.”
Not until weeks after Norton’s 2012 arrest in Baltimore County did Fairfax County Public Schools finally send the requisite paperwork to the Virginia Department of Education to revoke Norton’s teaching license.
“If there is a basis for action against a (teacher’s) license and no action is taken, it’s troubling, because in that case, the person could work elsewhere (with children),” Virginia Department of Education administrator Nancy Walsh said.
In October, shortly after the I-Team revealed Norton’s case, Fairfax County Public Schools issued public statements that it was unaware of other similar cases. Former superintendent Karen Garza said she was “very confident” no other teachers had slipped through the cracks.
The school district’s statement conflicts with public records obtained the I-Team. Those records show school district officials were notified about the languishing case of the fourth teacher, just weeks before Garza said she was confident no other cases exist.
Fairfax County Public Schools human resources administrator Chace Ramey contends Garza’s statement was “accurate” because the district was aware of the cases found by the I-Team at the time. He declined to specify why, if it was aware, the district didn’t raise those cases when asked previously.
The school district has internal investigators who review cases of teacher discipline, Ramey said.
“Student safety is our chief concern as a school division," he said. "We do our best to provide a safe, secure environment for all of our students."
“We do not believe there are any more of those cases in Fairfax County Public Schools,” Ramey added.
The father of one of the victims of the four newly revealed teacher misconduct cases said the delays are an indication Fairfax County Public Schools tried to hide the cases and avoid bad publicity. The victim’s father, whom we are not identifying by name to protect the anonymity of his daughter, was named in court files reviewed by the I-Team.
“There’s an institutional pattern to sweep it under the rug,” he told the I-Team. “The school district wants to protect its image and stay out of the news.”