Thursday, August 8, 2013

Education panel getting tough on crime by teachers

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

The Kansas State Board of Education is being asked to revoke the licenses of six teachers in the state who have recently been convicted of criminal activity, most involving sexual activity with their students.

The board also will be asked to deny one application for a new license by a prospective teacher who was previously convicted of marijuana possession.

That's an unusually large number of disciplinary actions for one board meeting. But Cheryl Whelan, general counsel for the State Department of Education, said it's partly the result of recent efforts by the state board to crack down on school districts that were failing to report cases of criminal activity by teachers and administrators.

“This is the new normal,” Whelan said.

The State Board of Education is responsible for issuing teacher licenses. Under state law, the board may not knowingly grant or renew a license to anyone convicted of certain felonies. It also has authority to revoke or suspend an existing license for educators who are found to have engaged in certain criminal activity, even if there are no criminal charges or convictions.

The job of reviewing complaints against teachers and hearing appeals on license applications is handled by the agency's Professional Practices Commission, which hears cases and makes recommendations to the state board.

But Whelan said the agency has often had trouble enforcing those laws because school districts and local prosecutors often failed to report cases to state licensing officials.

“There doesn't have to be a conviction,” she said. “It can be any act that endangers or injures the health or welfare of a minor through physical or sexual abuse or exploitation. The perception that a conviction triggers a duty to report is incorrect.”

In some high-profile cases, that has resulted in teachers with past histories of sexual misconduct simply moving to another district where they engaged in more offenses.

In 2011, the state board directed its staff to work with school districts and the Kansas Attorney General's office to make sure those officials are aware of their duty to report such cases.

Since then, Whelan said, the agency has seen more cooperation from some school districts, but still not from prosecutors.

“From school districts, yes. The reporting is up,” Whelan said. “From county and district attorneys, no. We're still not getting reports from everyone.”

The cases going before the state board next week include two teachers from the Wichita school district: Kurt Brundage, who was convicted in June 2012 on two counts of indecent liberties with a child for having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl; and Calvin Andrews, convicted in April 2012 of lewd and lacivious conduct for exposing himself in public.

Other cases include:

• Cathleen Balman, a teacher in the Clearwater school district, who was convicted in February of one count of indecent liberties with a child for having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy.

• Jacob Lull, a teacher in the Republic County school district, who was convicted in October 2012 of one count of indecent liberties with a child.

• Annette Neises, a teacher from Cheney, who entered a diversion agreement in April after admitting to entering a school and stealing a musical instrument from the band room.

• Lyle Seitter, a driving school instructor, who was convicted in Seward County District Court in 2012 of commercial bribery for accepting payments in exchange for falsifying certificates of completion from his driving school, and for committing drivers license application fraud against the state.

• And Richard Kimball, who recently applied for an emergency substitute teaching license but is being recommended for denial because of a 2011 conviction in Manhattan Municipal Court for possession of marijuana.