RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina is expected to revamp its process for screening teachers after recent news investigations exposed significant issues that allow dangerous teachers to abuse students.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest announced his people are drafting a policy proposal for lawmakers and plan to suggest corresponding rules to the State Board of Education to fix issues with North Carolina’s process for flagging teachers with suspended or revoked licenses, the Citizen-Times reports.
The plan is expected to address the lack of a centralized state system for background checks and problems coordinating with a national clearinghouse that tracks troubled teachers, issues that have allowed some offenders to slip through the cracks.
According to the Citizen-Times:
Mountain-area teachers who have had their North Carolina teaching licenses revoked but were not uploaded to (the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification clearinghouse) include James Patrick Carney, a former band director at Erwin High School, and Leslie Lamb Messer, a North Henderson High School special education teacher.
Each was charged with offenses that stemmed from having intercourse with a student. Carney was convicted in 2006, while Messer pleaded to a lesser charge following a 2011 arrest.
The license of Bryant Poole, a Graham County teacher, was revoked in 2014 after he was found to have nude photos on a school computer, but that disciplinary action also never appeared in the national database.
In North Carolina, officials at the state level have access to the database, which has been unavailable to individual districts, though NASDTEC officials have said they expect to be offering that option in a pilot program.
The news site explains that North Carolina used a paper system until 2011, and relies on the state’s 115 school districts to vet potential teachers. The former means some teachers who lost their licenses in North Carolina were never reported to the clearinghouse and went on to teach in other states.
Former North Carolina teacher James Swafford is a prime example. North Carolina revoked his license in 2007 for writing graphic, gushing love letters to a 16-year-old student about kissing her lips and other sexual behavior.
Swafford went to Tennessee and started a new teaching job in Grundy County, until state officials caught on about a year later, according to The Tennessean, a USA Today Network affiliate that, along with the Citizen-Times, participated in a nationwide review of teacher screening systems.
Miraculously, Tennessee reinstated his teaching license in 2015 after repeated appeals.
In North Carolina, the Citizen-Times identified 154 North Carolina teachers with license actions – suspensions or revocations – that do not appear on the NASDTEC database. State officials contend 20 of the educators identified were uploaded to the system, about 80 never were, and they’re still looking through paper records to determine why the other 50 were overlooked.
The fact that most of North Carolina’s individual school districts don’t subscribe to the NASDTEC database also means educators who lose their license in other states can simply cross the border and get a new job.
Alex Michael Stormer, 35, lost his license to teach in Georgia for injuring one student, pushing another and texting an inappropriate photo to a ninth-grade girl to proposition her for sex. He resigned as Georgia revoked his license and uploaded it to the national clearinghouse, but six weeks later he was teaching in Charlotte-Mecklenberg schools, who had no idea of his past, according to the Citizen-Times.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said he expects lawmakers will make the improved teacher screenings a priority during the upcoming legislative session.
“We’re going to be sharing (policy suggestions) with folks at (the Department of Public Instruction) and the legislature to get this process going long before we get to session on April 25,” he said. “This needs to be on the forefront of what we’re doing in the short session, and it should be a fairly easy lift to make that happen.”
EAGnews has documented many issues contributing to the apparent epidemic of educators who abuse students for years, including failed efforts by federal and state lawmakers to address serious shortfalls that leave students exposed.