Md. delays action on licenses Power to discipline teachers at issue

October 28, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

The State Board of Education held off yesterday on a proposal to broaden the state's powers to revoke and suspend teaching licenses.

Instead they asked educators to draft regulations that would hold out the possibility that a certificate could be reinstated and be tougher on teachers who molest and abuse students.

Current regulations permit the state to revoke a teaching license only after the teacher has been convicted of a serious crime, such as child abuse.

Maryland has revoked only eight licenses since the law took effect in 1989.

But the regulations don't touch what educators quietly admit is at least as much of a problem: The teacher who, when confronted with allegations of misconduct involving students, resigns, or is fired.

If the teacher has no criminal conviction and a clean record, the license cannot be revoked and the teacher can seek a classroom job elsewhere.

One state legislator said he will introduce a bill during the 1994 General Assembly session to make criminal background checks, required of school employees hired since October 1986, include current employees hired before that date. Such a provision was opposed in 1986 by the teachers' lobby.

Those convictions would be reported to the state Department of Education, said state Sen. John A. Pica, a Baltimore Democrat.

Board members considering yesterday's proposal said the state should hold out the possibility that teachers whose teaching privileges have been taken away could prove they have mended their ways and thus regain a license.

Board member Harry D. Shapiro said lawyers can regain their license to practice. Depending on the conditions, he said, teachers should too.

But the board's student member said many students would disagree.

"As a student, I don't think I'd want a teacher who had been convicted of child abuse or violence. Students find out lots about their teachers," said Allison C. Cole, the board's student member, from Severna Park High School.

"Even if they were rehabilitated, students would feel extremely uncomfortable," she said.

Much of the impetus for changing the regulations stemmed from incidents in two suburban counties.

Last fall, Michael E. Hickey, superintendent of Howard County schools, was about to fire a teacher who had sexually molested a student and ask the state to revoke his license when he discovered that because the case was not criminally prosecuted, he could not try to revoke the license.

In Anne Arundel County, when then-Northeast High School teacher Ronald W. Price was charged with having a sexual relationship with a student, he blamed the school system for not stopping him.

Price has admitted to sexual relations with more than seven students during a 20-year period and said the school knew of his activities. He was convicted of child sex abuse and sentenced this month to 26 years in prison.

If the board had approved the licensing task force's recommendation yesterday, the process of publishing the proposal and holding hearings would have started. New regulations could have gone into effect in February.

One task force member criticized the board for not moving forward this week to formally propose the regulations. Problems could be straightened out in the interim months when hearings are held, said Robert L. Moore of the Maryland State Teachers Association.

However, education officials said the changes the board is seeking would require starting much of the adoption process over.

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