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State agency takes months to review teacher sexual misconduct charges

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POSTED January 25, 2013 9:19 p.m.




LOS ANGELES (AP) — Months after the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing was notified of a Los Angeles Unified elementary school teacher suspected of molesting at least a dozen students and a principal who failed to report him to authorities, the agency has not taken action on the cases.

Both educators retired soon after the Los Angeles Police Department started investigating the allegations last March. However, the commission's time lag in resolving the cases, which could include revoking the person's teaching credential, underscores how teachers accused of grievous misconduct can take advantage of a loophole and simply move on to another district.

Although districts routinely check teaching applicants' credentials, the record may not show if complaints are pending and applicants can appear as clear. By the time the commission takes action, the teachers are already employed and their credential may not be checked again for years.

Experts said studies show pedophile teachers work at, on average, three schools before they are caught.

"This is one more example of why we have to change things," said Jolie Logan, chief executive of Darkness to Light, a nonprofit that works to prevent child sex abuse.

Credentialing Commission spokeswoman Erin Sullivan said she could not comment on specific cases. She noted that, under state law, the commission proceeds with cases after prosecutors file charges against a teacher, although it does have some latitude to take action sooner.

In the case of Robert Pimentel, a former teacher at George de la Torre Jr. Elementary School who was arrested Wednesday on charges of molesting 12 students, the police investigation took 10 months. Pimentel's record shows that his teaching credential expired last August.

The school district also reported former Principal Irene Hinojosa to the commission for failing to inform police of two complaints in 2002 and 2008 about Pimentel's alleged touching of female students to law enforcement, as required under the law. Her credential remains valid.

District Superintendent John Deasy said it was frustrating that disciplinary action isn't taken faster in cases involving sexual abuse of children.

The district came under fire last year for failing to report the case of former teacher Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd acts on students that involved feeding them semen-laced cookies. Administrators have now instituted a case-tracking system and two layers of review so all cases are immediately reported to the licensing commission. Deasy said that was the case with Pimentel and Hinojosa.

After the Berndt case, the district combed through its files and flooded the commission with an additional 591 teacher misconduct cases. The commission said nearly half of those cases did not have to be reported.

The credentialing commission, which is charged with awarding teaching certificates and disciplining teachers, has been criticized in the past for case pileups. In 2011, a legislative audit found the commission had a backlog of 12,600 cases. The commission has since cleared the backlog and instituted new systems to expedite cases.

Carol Shakeshaft, an expert on teacher sexual misconduct at Virginia Commonwealth University, has said that state agencies charged with overseeing teacher licenses frequently toil with small staffs and big workloads because their value in protecting children is underestimated.


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