At least six local women have had their teaching licenses canceled or revoked since January 2017 for sexual misconduct or inappropriate texting with their students, yet none was revealed to parents or communities by school districts, according to a News4 I-Team. None of the six cases led to police arrests or prosecution.
In at least three cases, the women were investigated for sending sexual or racy messages, including naked pictures, to male students.
In one case, the teacher admitted having sexual intercourse with an underage student nine years earlier. Police reports and prosecutors said an arrest was not made because the student later married the teacher. The former student revealed the abuse during an employment polygraph last year after marrying the teacher.
The cases are detailed in state education records obtained by the I-Team from the Maryland State Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Education. Though criminal cases were not filed, the state education agencies found sufficient cause to order the revocation or cancellation of the women’s teaching licenses.
Though known to state education officials, the cases were not publicly known in the local school districts in which the women worked, including Fairfax County and Stafford County. All major local school districts told the I-Team they do not notify community members about teachers from whom licenses are stripped for sexual misconduct, if no police arrest is made or criminal charges filed.
“The stereotype is that every boy wants to have sex when he’s a teenager,” said Virginia Commonwealth University researcher Charol Shakeshaft, who has studied the impact and pervasiveness of teacher sex misconduct. Shakeshaft said male victims of female teacher sex misconduct are frequently disinclined to report the incidents to police or school authorities amid concern the complaints will not being believed or responsibly handled.
“Many people don’t take it seriously. That’s one of the reasons (victims) don’t talk about it or tell people about it,” she said. “But it’s an adult woman exploiting that male teen, using that male teen.”
Nearly 80,000 teachers nationwide have been stripped of their licenses for various reasons, according to an I-Team review of state education records and a survey of operators of a national database of teacher license revocations. Shakeshaft estimates nearly one in three cases of teacher sex misconduct were committed by women.
Teacher Marries Alleged Victim
The Virginia Department of Education canceled the teaching license of Amy Zelaya in May 2017. Zelaya taught at Thomas Edison High School in Fairfax County in 2008 and at Hayfield Secondary School in Fairfax County from 2009-2016. According to the state records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Zelaya was investigated in 2017 by police for having a sexual relationship with a student she taught at Edison High in November 2008, when she was 26 years old and the victim was 15 years old.
The state records include a police report by the Texas Department of Public Safety. The police report said its investigators discovered the sexual relationship with Zelaya, when the victim revealed details while undergoing a pre-employment polygraph with the agency.
The Texas police report said Zelaya acknowledged to officers she had sex with the 15-year-old boy on school grounds, in a public park and at “various locations” in Alexandria, Virginia.
The report also specified Zelaya married the student in 2016, one year before the allegations first surfaced in the polygraph exam.
A Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman told the I-Team the agency referred Zelaya’s case to Fairfax County police.
Fairfax County police Lt. Josh Laitinen told the I-Team, “A detective from our Major Crimes Bureau received the referral and investigated the case. He consulted with a Commonwealth’s Attorney; however, they declined to prosecute because the victim did not wish to cooperate with a prosecution.”
The Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney’s office confirmed the reason prosecutors declined to file charges in the case to the I-Team.
Neither Zelaya, nor her husband, responded to a series of messages left by the I-Team.
Zelaya’s employment in Fairfax County Public Schools ended in 2016, according to the school district, one year before the police investigation in Texas. She gave up her teaching license after the state started revocation procedures.
The I-Team found Zelaya successfully applied for a teaching license in Missouri in 2017. A Missouri Department of Education spokesman told the I-Team Zelaya was licensed in Missouri before Virginia took action against her Virginia licensure. The spokesman said Zelaya records indicate Zelaya has not been hired by a Missouri school district.
Stafford County: Investigation Hit a 'Brick Wall'
The Stafford County Sheriff’s Office investigated a former literacy instructor at Stafford High School in summer 2018, according to state records. The teacher was accused of sending naked photos to at least one male student, according to the records.
The Virginia Department of Education canceled the teacher’s license in October. She had resigned her job four months earlier, according to Stafford County Public Schools.
The Virginia Department of Education investigative report said evidence uncovered in the police investigation showed the “teacher sent a male student a photo of her cleavage while dressed in lingerie using a social media application. In addition, (the) teacher previously had sent the male student a nude photo of herself.”
Notes from a sheriff’s office detective, released by the state under the Freedom of Information Act said the teacher gave “suspicious” responses when he questioned her about social media messages to students. The notes also said one student questioned by the sheriff’s office refused to talk to investigators. Another student acknowledged receiving a “cleavage” photo of his teacher, according to the police notes. The detective wrote “Stafford Investigated, hit a brick wall.”
In a statement to the I-Team, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office said: “The case was closed in June. There was insufficient probable cause to pursue charges.”
We reached out to the former teacher, but did not hear back.
Shakeshaft said school administrators should consider changing policies or regulations to allow principals to notify parents and communities whenever a teacher is stripped of a license, even if police opt not to arrest the teacher or file criminal charges. She said doing so would help alert other possible victims to come forward.
“You want to know if this has happened," she said. "You want to be able to ask your children: “Did you have any experiences with this teacher?"
The “Black Lace Thong”
A judge gave Fairfax County police authorization to search the emails of a former Robert E. Lee High School math teacher in March 2017. The police affidavit said the woman was suspected of having an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old student. The affidavit said the teacher was suspected of sending the student a picture of herself wearing a “black lace thong.”
According to state education department records, school officials also conducted a forensic audit of the teacher’s Fairfax County Public Schools computer. The state records said the review found correspondences between the teacher and former male students who had since entered college and/or become legal age adults.
According to the records, the teacher wrote to one former student, “You are one of the hottest guys on campus… I knew you cheated on one of my tests (you may not remember but I am 100% sure you cheated). But because I liked you so much, I didn’t do anything about it.”
According to the state records, she wrote another former student, “You are now finally a real man — no longer a 17-year-old boy. You’re probably ripped with muscles popping out everywhere.” It continues, “Five years ago, I had many thoughts of (sic) concerning you.”
The records said she wrote a third former student, “So before I met you, I have never thought of my students in a way that was inappropriate. But after a week, I became weirdly attracted to you.”
According to the Virginia Department of Education report on her case, the teacher acknowledged texting with the student and made visits to the boy’s home at least three or four times.
Prosecutors said they did not have sufficient cause to file criminal charges in the case.
Virginia state education officials canceled her license in June citing “conduct with direct and detrimental effect on the health, welfare, discipline or morale of students.”
The teacher did not return messages requesting comment.
Former students from the same school said rumors about the teacher had long circulated. They said they were troubled the school district did not notify parents and students about the investigation into the teacher.
Lee High school graduate Alex Cornbrooks said he does not know which students complained in the case. But Cornbrooks told the I-Team his parents would have appreciated a note from the school about the case.
“I don’t doubt it," he said. "I believe they really would appreciate seeing (a letter).”
“It’s important, especially for the parents of the students who had her," former Lee High School student Beverly Tran said. "They must be interested in why the teacher left midyear.”
Schools Notify Communities After Arrests
A News4 I-Team survey of nearly a dozen major Washington, D.C.-area school districts revealed schools opt not to notify communities when the state cancels or revokes teacher licenses, if criminal charges are not filed in the case.
Multiple school districts, including Fairfax County Public Schools, said state code prohibits the disclosure “employee personnel records” without permission of the employee.
The school districts said police typically issue press releases when school employees are charged with crimes, including those involving minors. The school districts said they will often share the police press release with parents at the schools involved.
In the six most recent cases in which states revoked or cancelled the teaching licenses of female teachers, none resulted in police arrest. None was made public to communities, according to the I-Team review.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.