Teacher misconduct: Lag in districts, state keeps some teachers in classrooms for years after allegations

State test scores at Trotwood-Madison schools improved in 2017-18. The district ranked last in Ohio in performance index the previous year. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

Combined ShapeCaption
State test scores at Trotwood-Madison schools improved in 2017-18. The district ranked last in Ohio in performance index the previous year. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a Dayton Daily News investigation revealing that educators across Ohio are losing their professional licenses for misconduct at unprecedented numbers. The Daily News analyzed a database of thousands of educator misconduct files, and obtained records from schools, police departments, courts and the state, and reached out to ousted teachers and coaches. Some of the cases the newspaper found from districts across the Miami Valley have never previously been reported. Go here for the full report. 

***

Dayton Daily News investigation found delays both in how quickly school districts report alleged misconduct to the Ohio Department of Education's professional conduct office and how long it takes the state to act on an allegation.

A Trotwood-Madison science teacher accused in 2011 of delayed reporting of an alleged sexual assault went on to teach for years in the school, finally losing her license in February of this year.

RELATED: Video shows Xenia gym teacher assaulting 7-year-old student

Records show a student in November 2011 reported to teacher Deborah Hartwell that the girl was forced into sex against her will behind the stage at the high school where Hartwell was overseeing drama practice. Hartwell drove the girl home and tried several times that night to reach the school principal before contacting police. When she couldn’t reach the principal, she told him the next day and a police probe was launched.

Dayton Daily News Investigates: Record number of educators disciplined in Ohio

The police investigation was closed “due to lack of evidence,” according to an internal school district investigation that concluded in January 2012. The district found Hartwell was negligent in supervising the drama club, and wrote that her failure to inform police and the girl’s mother that night “compromised the police investigation” and fell short of her legal requirements as a mandated reporter.

Hartwell said she thought school policy required her to contact the principal and then they would jointly notify law enforcement. She produced a 2008 memo from administrators to that effect. But Superintendent Rexann Wagner wrote in the internal investigation that more recent training “clearly states that we report directly to the police department of children’s services.”

Wagner concluded there wasn’t strong clarity in directions given to teachers and issued Hartwell a written reprimand, a level of discipline that falls far short of a revocation.

However, the issue wasn’t settled. Three days before the family of the alleged assault victim filed a lawsuit against the school district in November 2012, the district notified the Ohio Department of Education of Hartwell’s potential misconduct.

RELATED: Trotwood school district sued regarding alleged rape

Within weeks, the state launched an investigation with a subpoena of Hartwell’s records. But it wasn’t until May 2014 that the department informed Trotwood of its intention to take action against her license, under which she had been teaching the entire time.

Hartwell’s five-year teaching license expired in June 2015 and wasn’t renewed. The district began termination proceedings in August, but she sought arbitration and went on unpaid leave for more than a year. She voluntarily surrendered her ability to teach permanently in November 2017 and officially resigned from Trotwood in February of this year. She declined to comment.

ODE said it doesn’t track the average length of its investigations.

“Typically, how long a case takes depends on whether a criminal investigation or criminal charges are pending as well as the complexity of the allegations, cooperation of witnesses, availability of documentary evidence, and type of disciplinary action imposed,” Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said. “Usually, cases that proceed through the administrative hearing process take the longest amount of time to resolve.”

» RELATED: Video shows Xenia gym teacher assaulting student

About the Author