An unprecedented number of educators in recent years had their professional licenses permanently taken away for misconduct, some of it taking place inside the classroom, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.
The revocations include a Xenia elementary school teacher convicted of assaulting a 7-year-old boy, a Huber Heights teacher accused of improper contact with a high school student and a Kettering middle school athletic director who was convicted on a drug charge.
The newspaper’s investigation found 597 disciplinary actions were taken against education licenses in 2017, including 127 permanent revocations. Both are records, and state officials say the number of disciplinary actions will likely set another record this year.
Most educators follow the rules — there are more than 125,000 licensed teachers in Ohio, and thousands more coaches and classroom aides, meaning the disciplinary actions amount to a fraction of 1 percent of licensed personnel.
But some of the cases raise troubling issues about why certain educators were allowed to be near children. Marcus Gamblin, a substitute teacher and coach in the Jefferson Township Local Schools who lost his teaching license last year following a 2016 guilty plea to a felony charge of cocaine possession, had worked in schools for years despite OVIs in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and prior convictions for assault and possession of cocaine.
The Ohio Department of Education attributes the rise in cases to stepped up enforcement of professional standards and increased reporting of suspected or alleged misdeeds by individual districts. Local educators interviewed by the newspaper agreed with that assessment.
“The advice I give to our members is, when in doubt report it. Period,” said Tom Ash, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.
The Daily News analyzed a database of thousands of educator misconduct files, 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 are reported here for the first time.
The newspaper analysis found it can take years between an alleged misdeed and any consequences taken against an educator’s license. A Trotwood-Madison teacher accused of failing to report a sexual assault in a timely manner in 2011 resigned from the district in February of this year.
Many cases end with consent agreements, leaving the public with virtually no information on why an educator faced discipline, even in instances where the person is prohibited from ever working in a school again in Ohio.
A Chaminade-Julienne math teacher and a golf coach at the same school both had their licenses suspended last year and are prohibited from ever applying for another one. But because C-J is a private school, its teacher records aren’t public, nor are the allegations that caused the Ohio Department of Education to open cases against them.
The Daily News investigation comes amid a bevy of high-profile cases of teachers and school staff accused of inappropriate conduct with students. Most recently, former Miamisburg teacher Jessica Langford is serving a year in prison for having sex with a 14-year-old in her middle school classroom. State records say her license was permanently revoked in June.
An assault in gym class
Certain serious convictions — high-level felonies and some sex and drug crimes — trigger automatic revocation of an educator’s license. In other instances, the State Board of Education can choose to pursue disciplinary action on its own.
Xenia teacher Eric Salter surrendered his teaching license in November 2017 after the board initiated disciplinary proceedings against him. Salter was caught on camera in April 2017 grabbing a 7-year-old student and dropping him to the ground after the boy kicked him from behind as both were seated. The incident occurred during gym class with other children watching.
Salter pleaded guilty in January 2018 to misdemeanor assault and the board permanently revoked his license the same month.
Many of the school officials in the database lost their licenses for crimes unrelated to their jobs.
Former Trotwood coach Jonathan Washington lost his license in September 2017 for “the swindle of $75,000 from an elderly member of the community over a three-year period through knowingly lying to his victim about the status of the money owed to her by Mr. Washington,” according to ODE records.
After Washington pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court in January 2016, several prominent people wrote letters of support on his behalf, saying he shouldn’t lose his coaching permit.
Jackie Porter, a former athletic director in Kettering’s Van Buren Middle School, was convicted of attempting to commit deception to obtain dangerous drugs in 2016, and had her pupil activity permit permanently revoked in October 2017.
Misconduct doesn’t have to be criminal to result in a teacher losing his or her license. State law says action can be taken if a teacher “(engages) in an immoral act, incompetence, negligence, or conduct that is unbecoming to the applicant’s or person’s position.”
Ash said “conduct unbecoming” can range from behavior that is “significantly wrong on a moral and ethical basis,” to “dereliction of duty” offenses like repeated failure to submit required reports, to filing a false request for sick leave.
School officials have become more comfortable reporting allegations of misconduct, Ash said. And once those reports are made, ODE’s investigators handle the allegations, rather than local school districts straining their resources by hiring outside attorneys.
Asked whether school districts avoid reporting misconduct and instead pressure employees to resign — which allows educators to keep their professional licenses — Ash said, “I believe that’s happening less.”
David Romick, president of Dayton’s teachers union, said some misconduct has a “bright line” that should be clear to all. But the internet and social media have raised new issues, and Romick said his union, the Dayton Education Association, has more aggressively trained teachers in recent years on the full scope of Ohio’s Educator Code of Conduct, a copy of which he keeps on his desk.
“Given how many employees we have, I would not say there have been a lot of these cases,” he said. “But early and often, we jumped on (training) with our own members. It goes from internet safety to Facebook common sense, to texting with students. … The more awareness we can create about what the dangers are and the guidelines are, the better off our members are going to be.”
State Board of Education member Nick Owens, whose territory includes Greene and Clark counties, said an ODE review of the state code of conduct has begun, with involvement from teacher groups and others, and it will eventually come to the state board.
“It hasn’t been reviewed in close to a decade, and we really need to look at digital technology and social media issues,” Owens said. “Ultimately, it’s all about student safety. … And I don’t know if there have necessarily been more of these (misconduct) cases, but there’s been a greater focus on them and reporting them. It’s us evolving as a society and more putting a stop to these things.”
Becky Higgins, Ohio Education Association president, said it’s important for teachers accused of inappropriate conduct to be provided due process, including a full and impartial investigation.
“It is an unfortunate reality that educators can be the targets of unfair, unfounded, and horribly damaging accusations,” she said. “The OEA believes strong student protections can be maintained while ensuring the due process and privacy rights of teachers and other school employees who may be falsely accused.”
Centerville case reopened
Several area teachers permanently surrendered their licenses without taking part in ODE’s investigation of the allegations against them.
This includes Roy Satterfield, a former teacher at Pathway School of Discovery who had his license permanently revoked in March. He was arrested in November 2015 on gross sexual imposition charges, but released and never criminally charged.
RELATED: Pathway teacher released from jail
Huber Heights teacher Nicolette Smyth surrendered her license in May without taking part in an investigation. School and police records show she was accused of improper contact with a high school student. The case is closed and no charges were filed, but Smyth is permanently prohibited from applying for another license.
Centerville teacher Samuel Glenn resigned in May 2017 while under police investigation for an incident involving a student. Glenn surrendered his teaching license permanently in July.
Centerville police told the Daily News last year it did not plan to pursue charges against Glenn, but the status of the investigation has changed.
“It was reopened … and we have been working it since, and at this point that case is in the hands of the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office,” Centerville police spokesman John Davis said.
Lengthy delays in Trotwood-Madison case
The Daily News found delays both in how quickly districts report incidents to the state 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.
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.
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.
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.”
Years of complaints about Warren County teacher
In one of the cases studied by the newspaper, action was taken against a male teacher after years of complaining by female students that he made them uncomfortable.
Donald Carson, a Kings Local School District gym teacher, entered into a consent agreement in July 2017 whereby his license was suspended and he is prohibited from ever applying to teach in Ohio again.
This followed a complaint on Feb. 8, 2016, from a father saying Carson made his middle school daughters uncomfortable by rubbing their backs and shoulders, and texting one of them without her parents’ knowledge. Carson was suspended the next day and resigned in March after the incident was reported to ODE.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office investigated and found no criminal activity, according to school records.
According to Carson’s personnel records, similar complaints were made to the district in 2006, 2013 and 2015. In 2015, a parent complained about a post Carson made on Facebook and criticized his continued employment. In 2013, several female students wrote narratives saying Carson made them uncomfortable. In 2006, he was confronted by a dozen female students who wrote voluntary statements.
In 2006 and 2013, records show Carson was told by school administrators to correct his behavior.
Kings Local Treasurer Cary Furniss said neither he nor Superintendent Tim Ackerman were working in the district at the time of the earlier incidents and do not know why they were not reported to ODE.
“The current leadership team deemed the circumstances serious enough to warrant the action taken in 2016,” Furniss said. “The current leadership can’t speak to the circumstances or decisions made previously.”
Carson did not return calls seeking comment.
Two banned at C-J
Because Carson entered into a consent agreement vowing never to apply for a license again, and didn’t go through a formal hearing process, ODE is under no obligation to make public the allegations against him.
Because Kings Mill is a public school, however, the Daily News obtained that information from his personnel file, which is public under Ohio public records act.
But private schools’ records aren’t public. This means there is no record available from the school or state on why two former Chaminade-Julienne employees are banned from applying for a license to work at any school in Ohio.
One is Ann E. Meyers, who was a well-known student athlete at the University of Dayton before teaching math at C-J and coaching for decades. Her license was suspended in July 2017 with a ban on ever applying for another one.
The other is George Menker, a longtime golf coach at C-J whose pupil activity permit was suspended in January 2018 with a prohibition against him ever re-applying.
Meyers did not return calls seeking comment. Menker would only say of the allegations against him: “It was not criminal. It was not student-related.”
Menker said he helped build the schools girl’s golf team to a championship team that sent several students to college on scholarships.
“What you ought to do is write about the 10 years of success I had down there,” he said.
Chaminade-Julienne officials would not comment on Meyers’ or Menker’s departure beyond a statement.
“We can confirm that these individuals have been employed in the past by Chaminade-Julienne. However, the status of their teaching or coaching license with the Ohio Department of Education made it impossible for them to continue to be employed by the school,” school spokeswoman Kary Ellen Berger said. “Current school policy does not allow for the release of any confidential personnel information.”
The rising number of educators losing their licenses coincides with increased staffing and a restructuring of ODE’s Office of Professional Conduct in recent years, Halpin said. This has caused the number of cases they close to skyrocket from 676 in 2014 to 1,280 in 2017.
“The restructuring and increased staff have been very successful,” Halpin said.
Data from the state’s 2017 Educator Conduct Report also shows an increase in referrals to ODE. In each of the past four years, referrals have risen by at least 8 percent over the previous year, the state data shows.
Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson said not only are the rules on what constitutes misconduct been broadened, school personnel now have more incentives to report.
“There’s this phrase ODE uses called ‘conduct unbecoming an educator,’ … and that’s a pretty broad phrase,” Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson said. “Well because of that and because we’re mandatory reporters – we’re subject to discipline if we make the wrong decision and don’t report something — I think there is a lot more reporting now than ever before.”