Ohio targets misconduct by teachers

The overwhelming majority of public school teachers in Ohio are good men and women who are dedicated to educating children. But as with any profession, there are a few bad apples.

Finding them and doing something about them – with emphasis on ensuring misdeeds do not harm children – is the mission of the state education department’s Office of Professional Conduct.

During the past few years, the agency’s workload has increased dramatically. During 2005, the office handled 4,770 referrals in cases of possible misconduct by public school personnel. But last year, the number was 8,068.

Although the 2012 total was down slightly from 2011, the unmistakable trend has been upward. That should concern Buckeye State residents.

Teacher misconduct can involve a variety of actions, ranging from mishandling money on up to harming children. Most cases referred to the state do not involve harm to students.

State officials say the higher numbers are for a variety of reasons and do not necessarily reflect increased misbehavior by educators. For example, changes in background check rules and in the number of criminal offenses, even those outside school, requiring action against teachers were cited.

It appears Ohio is doing a better job of policing those who work in public schools. But there are a few glaring exceptions.

One occurred earlier this year, when the North Fork school district near Columbus fired a high school assistant principal just six months after hiring him. That happened after North Fork officials learned the man had been fired from his previous job at a Columbus school, for having ”sexual contact” with a fellow teacher and sending sexually explicit notes to her – using students as couriers.

Why weren’t officials at the North Fork district made aware of the man’s record before hiring him?

In some ways, it appears getting away with misconduct is much more difficult for an educator in Ohio. That is a good thing. Clearly, however, officials at both the local and state levels have some work to do to make the system less susceptible to mistakes.