60% of VA teachers who lost licenses involved in crimes against children

60% of VA teachers who lost licenses involved in crimes against children

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - 363 educators in Virginia have lost their license to teach over the last 15 years. It's a very small percentage of the more than 100,000 licensed teachers in the Commonwealth. However, almost 60% of those 363 cases involved crimes against children, including sexting, abuse and the ultimate act of betrayal: A teacher engaging in sexual contact with a teen.

There have been 13 cases in Greater Richmond since 2006.

A former Henrico County art teacher is serving time right now for an inappropriate relationship with a male student at Highland Springs High. A former 5th grade teacher in Henrico was convicted for getting a 15-year-old girl to engage in sex acts while he watched on Skype. A former Hanover shop teacher and his wife the school nurse are serving years behind bars for a marijuana and alcohol fueled sexual orgy involving two students.

"When you have been a victim of sexual abuse, that's something that's gonna follow you for the rest of your life, whether you realize it when you're 16 or not," prosecutor Shari Skipper, who tried the Hanover case, said back in 2012.

The state database from the Department of Education has a list of Virginia teachers who've had their licenses revoked, canceled and denied over the last 15 years. The licenses were pulled for a range of offenses, including drinking, drugs and cheating on standardized tests. Several licenses were also taken away for email communication of a sexual nature with a student, sexual contact with two students, child sex abuse and possession of child pornography. 33 percent of the cases on this list involved a teacher accused of direct sexual contact with a student.

"That's just, that's just too many," Jo Lynne DeMary, who was Virginia's first female state superintendent, said.  She sat in on many hearings for teachers accused of sex with students. "When a teacher shows up on that database list, that is reported to every school division in Virginia," DeMary added. She also pointed out the database is a very small percentage of the more than 100,000 licensed teachers in Virginia. "If it's your child, or if it's your grandchild, then one is too many," DeMary added.

In Central Virginia, 34 teachers had their licenses revoked or canceled over that 15 year period. 13 of those teachers had sexual contact with a student, and eight more were involved in sex crimes against children.

"I spend my life looking at small percentages of abnormal and abhorrent behavior," psychologist and VCU criminal psychologist professor Robyn McDougle said.  "In the larger picture, we're doing a really good job of preparing, selecting and keeping our teachers that should be teaching our children in our schools. In Virginia, we have very high standards for licensing our teachers."

She didn't see any trends in the data, but she thought it was important not to overlook it. She said the people who take things far beyond the teacher-student relationship often have a similar psychopathology to pedophiles. There's often a grooming process parents can watch for. "Lots of interactions. lots of emails of text messages a lot of hand written love notes. The child many times doesn't see it as wrong. They like the attention or they're afraid to say something because it might negatively impact their grade," McDougle added.

She said the best thing a parent can do is ask questions and have a running open dialogue with their children. "If they see a teacher giving that child extra attention, don't assume it's something inappropriate... Open a dialogue about 'Why is Mrs. Smith spending so much time with you after school? Are you really having trouble in algebra?'"

In 2011 the State Board of Education approved a set of guidelines to prevent sexual misconduct and abuse in Virginia schools.

Virginia State Board of Education spokesman Charles Pyle sent a statement in an email, which said:

Virginia was among the first states to require criminal background checks for all public school teachers and other school board employees. Since 1989, all initial or first-time applicants offered or accepting employment have had to submit to fingerprinting and provide personal descriptive information to be forwarded along with the applicant's fingerprints through the Central Criminal Records Exchange to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a criminal background check. This requirement was extended in 1998 to include applicants for positions with accredited private and parochial schools."

The 2008 General Assembly, with the support of the Board of Education, approved HB 1439 and SB 241, which amended Standard 7 of the Standards of Quality by adding language requiring school boards to develop policies and procedures to address complaints of sexual abuse of students by school board employees.

HB 1439 and SB 241 require local school boards to notify the Board of Education within 10 days if a licensed employee is dismissed or resigns due to a criminal conviction or founded child abuse or neglect charge.

In addition, HB 1439 and SB 241 require:

  • Court clerks to notify the Superintendent of Public Instruction when a person licensed by the Board of Education is convicted of a felony drug crime or a felony sex crime involving a child victim.
  • Local social services departments to notify the state superintendent of license holders who have exhausted appeals after being identified as the subject of a founded case of abuse.

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