Two bills designed to protect children and drafted as a direct result of a News4 I-Team investigation have been signed into law by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
The laws require child protective services agencies to notify school districts and the state department of education when child protective services workers find teachers abused children.
The laws were drafted and debated after an August 2017 I-Team investigation revealed that a former Arlington County teacher kept his teaching license and found a new teaching job in Prince George’s County, Maryland, months after Arlington Child Protective Services found he sexually abused a child.
The investigation showed failures by the child protective services agency to notify the Arlington County school district and the Virginia Department of Education.
Under the newly signed laws, such mistakes would be avoided, according to the legislators who sponsored the bills.
“For the families and for the students, this is really important,” said Del. David Bulova (D-Fairfax). "We need to make sure we are learning from these loopholes and that we are tightening our laws and regulations so that it doesn’t happen again.”
State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) said, “Teachers are in a profession where they see children every day. It’s very common for teachers to leave one school district and go to another one.”
The new law applies to the more than 130 child protective services agencies across Virginia.
Child safety advocates said strengthening the reporting requirements in Virginia also helps protect children in other states. The I-Team found a series of recent cases in which teachers accused of misconduct crossed state lines to find new teaching work in other regions.
The I-Team’s 2017 investigation into the Arlington County teacher quickly captured the attention of state legislators. Two formal legislative hearings were called before the end of 2017 to discuss the I-Team reports and debate changes.
In its investigation, the I-Team reported a review by Arlington County Child Protective Services had 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.
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Police investigated Staten but said it didn’t have evidence to recommend criminal charges. Staten was not prosecuted. The records show he had denied the accusations from the outset. Staten maintains his innocence, according to his attorney. He declined to be interviewed by the I-Team.
The records obtained by the I-Team show Arlington County Child Protective Services failed to notify Arlington Public Schools and the Virginia Department of Education about its findings, as required under Virginia law. The error prevented state officials from revoking his license until May 2017, more than three years after the investigation.
Though Staten resigned his position in Arlington Public Schools in June 2013, during the investigation by Child Protective Service agents, he found a new job as an assistant principal at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, within weeks. School district and state records obtained by the I-Team show Staten remained at Thomas Johnson Middle School until he resigned in January 2017.
Several parents of Thomas Johnson Middle School students said they were unaware of Staten’s prior misconduct investigation in Arlington County until they were notified by the News4 I-Team. Dwight Francis of Lanham said his daughter was a student of Staten’s through January.
“[They] could have notified me of a potential danger to my child," Francis said. "She’s in the seventh grade and he was a seventh-grade adviser.”
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.
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.