Investigations into teacher misconduct can take more than a year

Many area school systems send those teachers to warehouses during the investigations

  • Mike Williams, a former Baltimore County teacher, reported to work at this warehouse for more than a year. He was paid to sit inside while accusations about him were investigated.
Mike Williams, a former Baltimore County teacher, reported… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
September 29, 2014|By Liz Bowie | The Baltimore Sun

While Baltimore County officials were deciding whether Michael Williams was fit to continue teaching, he was assigned to a dusty, windowless room at a Pulaski Highway warehouse that held old textbooks, surplus computers and other materials. He, along with a dozen or so employees, sat at a long table reading detective novels and playing Trivial Pursuit.

Sometimes they would fall asleep until supervisors, watching from a security camera, came in to wake them up.

Williams, who had been accused of touching a girl on the cheek with a yardstick, was paid his full salary plus benefits for more than a year to show up at the warehouse when school was in session. At his school, Woodlawn Middle, a substitute was hired to teach his class.

"The county doesn't move on anything quickly. They let people sit there and rot," said Williams, who denies having touched the girl. He made $67,000 a year as a teacher.

Every year, hundreds of school system employees are immediately escorted out of Baltimore-area schools when they are accused of misconduct and are told they can't return to the school until an investigation is completed. Those investigations can take more than a year to be concluded, and in the meantime taxpayers pay the bill for both their salaries and the substitute teachers'.

That problem is not uncommon, particularly in urban school systems and in states with strong teacher unions, said Dan Weisberg, executive vice president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that works on educational equality issues.

"Some of these cases take longer than capital murder cases," said Weisberg, who was previously a labor relations attorney for the New York City school system. He believes it is important to give teachers an opportunity to argue their case to someone other than the principal who may have accused them, but says school systems should limit the time for reaching a decision.

School officials say they too want to reduce how long the investigations can take but point out that the process can be delayed by investigations involving police and other agencies and the right of teachers to appeal.

In Baltimore County, the largest school system in the region, 230 employees from a workforce of about 18,000 were accused of inappropriate actions in the past year, more than any other area school system.

Baltimore City schools said they had 79 cases in 2014 and 67 the year before. Anne Arundel County reported 45 last year. Howard County currently has fewer than five teachers out on administrative leave, but did not give figures for the whole year. Carroll County said it does between five and 10 investigations a year and each investigation takes no more than two weeks. Harford County declined to provide data.

School officials around the region either said they haven't computed how much is spent on these cases, or did not provide the information. Most also would not provide an average length of time employees spend on administrative leave while their cases are investigated.

Some teachers are sent to work in administrative offices, answering the phone or filing, but nearly every county also has a warehouse where employees are sent when no other assignments are available.

Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties use their logistics warehouses; Harford County has used its library distribution center. In the city, some principals who have been accused of misconduct are sent to the Combined Charities Campaign, a charitable program, where they help raise money.

In Baltimore County, the warehouse is filled with materials that schools don't have room to store or might not need. Infrequently, Williams said, someone would show up with an order from a school and they would fill it, but most of the time there was no work for the employees.

Several teachers accused of misconduct said it had taken months for their investigations to be completed. In some cases, they believed teachers languished in the warehouse because investigators didn't have enough evidence to fire them, but didn't want them back in the classroom. Or officials hoped they would quit rather than stay in the warehouse.

One employee said that after six months at the Pulaski warehouse, he gave up and, based on strong recommendations from his former Baltimore County principal, got a job in a private school.

Another educator provided documents to The Baltimore Sun that showed it had taken a year for the county to decide that he should be dismissed. He hired an attorney and fought the recommendation, finally giving up and retiring — nearly two years after he had been escorted out of his school.

Those employees declined to be identified because they didn't want their job records made public.

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