How many rotten apples are there?
Is it just a coincidence we've been barraged by teacher sex scandals? Maybe. But there may be more of this going on that we're inclined to believe, according to an exhaustive and award-winning Associated Press series that ran last fall.
The AP found more than 2,500 cases of sexual misconduct involving teachers in the past five years, according to disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. "The findings draw obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church," the AP wrote on day one of its series. "Clergy abuse is part of the national consciousness after a string of highly publicized cases. But until now, there's been little sense of the extent of educator abuse."
An exaggeration? The AP isn't the only journalism outfit looking into teacher misconduct – and finding lots to report. In its 2003 series, "Coaches Who Prey," the Seattle Times found 159 coaches in Washington state who had been fired or reprimanded over the course of a decade for sexual misconduct. The newspaper found at least 98 of those coaches continued to coach or teach.
Closer to home, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported last year – after a two-year investigation – that more than 300 Florida teachers have been punished in recent years for sexual misconduct and nearly 450 more for physically attacking or verbally terrorizing students. And yet, the Herald Tribune found, more than half of those teachers kept their teaching licenses and at least 150 of them were still teaching in Florida.
Wrote the paper: "The actual number of questionable teachers in Florida schools is likely much larger because more than 70 percent of cases reported to the state are dismissed after a review by investigators who have little or no formal training. Of the cases that don't get dropped, state officials close 9 in 10 with settlement deals that allow teachers to avoid admitting guilt."
- Ron Matus, state education reporter