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Dirty Secrets: State education officials want legislators' help to end sexual abuse

Tuesday, November 02, 1999

By Jane Elizabeth Zemel, Post-Gazette Education Writer

In Pennsylvania, a group of 13 average citizens meets six times a year in Harrisburg to talk about teachers in trouble.

 
 

The cases that come before the Pennsylvania Standards and Practices Commission range from incompetence and forgery to incest and rape. Their decisions can -- and often do -- mark the end of a teacher's career.

So far this year, 24 discipline cases were decided by the commission. Of those, at least 15 were for sex-related offenses. Sex-related cases heard by the commission cover a wide range of offenses.

David Hardy, a Penn State graduate who became a school psychologist and elementary counselor in the Harrisburg area, pled guilty to child sexual abuse and designing and selling pornographic materials. The commission revoked his license in 1997.

Clyde Caliguiri, a music teacher in the South Park School District, was found guilty of sexually abusing his daughter. His certificate was revoked in 1992, a year after the state education department was notified of his guilty plea.

 
  PG Online chart:

Pennsylvania teacher discipline cases, 1990-1999

   
 

Frank C. Ceraso, who attended Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh, lost his elementary education teaching license in 1996 after he exposed himself to a female lifeguard and assaulted her.

Terri S. Hatton, a guidance counselor in Wilson Area School District, Northampton County, surrendered her certificates to the commission after they accused her of having sex with a student. When the student wanted to stop having sex with her, she threatened to tell the student's parents about the relationship, according to documents from the commission, which accepted her surrender in 1996.

From teachers making bomb threats to principals molesting students, the commission has heard it all. Formed in 1989, the commission receives cases from the state Department of Education, which takes complaints from parents, school officials, and other sources.

Many of those complaints are settled before they ever get to the commission, which considers only the more serious or contentious cases that require disciplinary action.

Yet, the commission's caseload of teacher misconduct has increased each year since its inception, reaching a peak of 172 cases in 1997.

But even though Pennsylvania officials chase down bad teachers much more aggressively than they did a decade ago, other states have regulations that give parents even greater assurance that their children's teachers aren't criminals.

What do they have that Pennsylvania doesn't?

Primarily, fingerprinting.

In Pennsylvania, only teacher applicants who have lived in the state for less than a year, along with all out-of-state applicants, must be fingerprinted before certification.

In addition, while a few states have abolished any statute of limitations on reporting teacher abuse, Pennsylvania has just a one-year time limit for victims and school districts.

However, that may change, under proposed regulations that the department is hoping to push through the legislature.

Here are the highlights:

Statute of limitations. Victims of educator abuse may report the incident up to seven years after the student turns 18.

Charter schools. The commission would have authority over teachers in charter schools. Under state law, up to 25 percent of charter school teachers can be non-certified; but under the proposal, the state could also discipline those teachers.

In addition, the proposal would keep a teacher who lost his certification in a regular public school from becoming a teacher in a charter school.

School officials' responsibilities. Superintendents would have to report any reasonable suspicions that a teacher has abused a child. Now, the law states that superintendents need to report such a case only if the teacher has been charged with a crime, convicted or dismissed for cause.

Also, the proposal would extend reporting responsibilities to assistant superintendents, and executive directors and directors of vo-tech schools.

Reciprocity. Currently, when a teacher holding a Pennsylvania certificate is disciplined in another state, the commission must hold a full-scale hearing to prove that the case against the teacher warrants discipline in Pennsylvania also. Under the proposal, the burden is on the teacher, who would have to prove to the commission why the certificate should not be revoked.

Reinstatement. Teachers whose licenses are revoked could not apply for reinstatement for five years, under the proposal. This would include out-of-state teachers. Currently, teachers can try for reinstatement immediately -- even the very day the license is revoked.



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