More educators in Oregon are disciplined for sexual misconduct than for any other offense. But teachers who touch, molest or have sex with children are more likely to escape criminal charges than be convicted, a review by The Oregonian shows.
Many of those offenders fit the profile of sexual predators, law enforcement officials say. If they're convicted of sex crimes, they can't teach. But without a conviction, others who lose their state licenses for sexual offenses can be reinstated after a year, meaning some can and do return to Oregon classrooms.
Boyce Williams Jr., for example, had his license revoked in Alaska for spanking and touching special education students on their bare buttocks. But Williams was never convicted of a crime, and Oregon reinstated his credentials. In 2005, he was convicted of misdemeanor harassment after spanking three Rainier School District boys. Neither Williams nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
An analysis by The Oregonian of more than 400 discipline records from 2002 through 2006 from the state teacher licensing agency found:
For every educator convicted of sexual abuse, another was never charged with a crime despite admitting to physical, sexual or inappropriate relationships with students. Thirty-eight educators lost their licenses permanently for a sex crime. But 42, who were not convicted, were suspended, reprimanded or put on probation.
At least 1 in 4 teachers who engaged in a relationship of a sexual nature with a student had been disciplined for similar behavior before. The repeat offenders wrote students love notes, touched them in private areas or had sex with them, even after warnings from school officials.
Each year, an average of 90 educators statewide are sanctioned for wrongdoing, from showing up to class drunk to stealing school property. The number is just 0.3 percent of the 33,000 educators working in public schools and a mere fraction of the 65,000 licensed by the state's Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.
This does not include 20,000 nonlicensed adults such as coaches, janitors and instructional aides working in public schools. An additional 2,000 educators work in private schools and aren't necessarily licensed.
Even though educators who abuse children are a small number, they poison the trust communities forge with schools and other trusted adults. And their sexual exploitation devastates lives.
"I am still scared of him," said one Oregon woman, now in her mid-30s, of a rural high school track coach who lured her into a sexual relationship that persisted through her college years and beyond. The Oregonian is not naming her because she is a sexual abuse victim.
"I still look over my shoulders. . . . My whole memory of it is ugly, and I just don't want to be confronted with that ugliness anymore."
Her anger has grown with time, she said, nearly a decade after she broke free of the coach, who was later convicted of sexually abusing another high school student.
"The majority of the sexual misconduct took place in his classroom after dark," she said. "That violation should appall anybody."
Difficult to convict
Teacher sexual abuse cases are particularly difficult to prosecute because they tend to be high profile, law enforcement officials say.
And investigations are hampered when older teenagers refuse to cooperate and are viewed as consenting adults, even if they're not yet 18.
Often, they believe they are in love with the teacher, or the teacher with them, said Alicia Egan, a deputy district attorney in Yamhill County who has prosecuted several teacher sexual abuse cases.
"The student victims come in my office and they say, 'Well, we're in love,' " Egan said. "I tell them, 'You think you're in love, it doesn't make it right.' It's not love. It's a power relationship."
In addition, teacher sex offenders are often popular, dividing communities and pitting supporters against accusers, said Darin Tweedt, who worked at the child sex crimes unit for the Marion County district attorney's office.
For example, Brian W. Miller was a popular, young teacher who taught math and science at Canyonville School in the South Umpqua School District. When he was convicted in 2006 of groping three girls, ages 12 to 14, some parents and community members sided with him.
According to police reports, the victims' accounts mirrored one another's: Miller asked each girl to stay after school on separate occasions to help him construct a female skeleton by allowing him to take their measurements. He then brought them into an adjacent wood shop, where he touched their breasts while trying to take measurements of their chests. In some cases, he asked the girl to take her shirt off.
In their reports to police, each of the girls referred to Miller as her "favorite teacher."
Miller pleaded no contest in Douglas County to misdemeanor harassment. His lawyer, David Terry, said Miller is still "well-loved and enjoys support in the community."
Without a criminal conviction, most cases fall to the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, which has the discretion to reprimand teachers or suspend or revoke their licenses. When a teacher reapplies for a license, the commission weighs decides whether to grant a reinstatement or deny it.
The Oregonian's analysis of five years of data found the state disciplined 80 teachers for touching kids, contacting students outside school hours or forming relationships with them, and disciplined 14 others for making sexual comments to students.
The 17-member state commission, composed mostly of teachers and former teachers and appointed by the governor to three-year terms, can revoke an educator's license for one year at a time. After that, the educator has the right to ask the commission to reinstate the license.
The commission receives hundreds of complaints each year. Most are dismissed because investigators find the claims unfounded and are vigilant about wrongfully accusing a teacher.
Even after a conviction, some teachers say they are innocent.
David G. Kohl, a Milwaukie middle school teacher, was convicted in 2002 of misdemeanor harassment for touching students.
"I never touched kids inappropriately," he said. "When a kid accuses you of something, you are automatically guilty."
Over the course of the 1999-2000 school year, Kohl's students complained that he rubbed their shoulders, necks and backs -- what an expert on sex offenders would later describe as grooming behavior. The principal sent Kohl at least three memos about the complaints, and parents pulled students from Kohl's class. Only after school officials notified police was Kohl removed from the classroom.
Under Oregon law, an educator convicted of serious crimes cannot teach again. But when there is no conviction, the state agency sometimes has to decide whether to allow a disciplined teacher back in the classroom.
Reinstatements are rare, said Executive Director Vickie Chamberlain. The decision often comes down to a psychiatric evaluation and the educator's testimony.
The commission must weigh the costs of waging expensive legal battles, student safety and the educator's rights to due process, she said.
Much of the commission's decision-making happens behind doors closed to the public, as well as to victims of abuse. Investigation files and complaints are sealed. And final educator discipline orders are decided upon by the commission and its executive director on a case-by-case basis.
Some school officials say districts should have a say in who is allowed to teach again. In Gresham, one teacher lost his license for forming an inappropriate relationship with a student. The commission later reinstated him.
Steve Lewis, human resources director of Gresham-Barlow School District, said he voiced concerns when he learned of the reinstatement.
"They didn't give us the opportunity to say, 'We don't think he should ever be reinstated,' " Lewis said.
Sex offenders should not be given second chances because they are prone to repeat their abuse, said Cory Jewell Jensen, co-director of a sex offender therapy center in Beaverton.
"It's insane for someone who has offended kids to be allowed to teach," she said.
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