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Back to June Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 269 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JUNE 2008

Union Contracts Cover up Teachers' Indecent Behavior
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Because teachers union contracts make it so difficult for school districts to discipline teachers accused of sexual or other misconduct, many districts are tempted to let abusive teachers go unpunished. They skip the long, arduous process of firing a union teacher and allow the teacher to resign instead. He can then move to another district, sometimes even with a positive recommendation from the school he left.

The Oregonian recently reviewed hundreds of cases of teacher misconduct to study the way this dynamic is at work in Oregon. Reporters found 47 cases over ten years in which districts had made confidential settlements with teachers accused of abuse.

Middle school teacher Kenneth John Cushing, for example, allegedly touched at least eight female students inappropriately. Through public records requests, the Oregonian obtained a copy of the agreement Salem-Keizer Public Schools made with Cushing in 2004. The district promised to cite "personal reasons" if potential employers called to check Cushing's references, and to make "no reference to this agreement." In return, Cushing resigned quietly without dragging the district through a formal inquiry. Three years later, Cushing left a job teaching at a charter school in Tucson, Arizona, apparently also for "personal reasons." Administrators at that school said that Cushing's record there was clean.

Other private agreements unearthed by the Oregonian resembled Cushing's in persuading accused teachers to resign, except that some also provided cash settlements, health insurance benefits, or recommendation letters. According to the paper, this practice "is so widespread, school officials across the country call it 'passing the trash.'" (The Oregonian, 2-18-08)

In New York City, union contracts make it "just about impossible" to fire a bad teacher, School Chancellor Joel Klein complained in John Stossel's 2006 exposé, Stupid in America. One teacher received $300,000 in pay during the six years of litigation it took to fire him for sending sexually suggestive e-mails to a 16-year-old student. "Most principals have just given up," Stossel concluded, "or gotten bad teachers to transfer to another school. They even have a name for it: 'the dance of lemons.'" (ABC news, 1-13-06)

In 2007, the Associated Press reviewed five years' worth of school districts' disciplinary records and tabulated 2,570 cases of sexual misconduct by public school teachers. About 1,800 of the cases involved young people. It is impossible to know how many other teachers went unpunished for similar offenses. (Associated Press, 10-21-07)


 
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