BY JORGE BARRIENTOS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Former Garces Memorial High School teacher Marshall David Neal served a year in jail and registered as a sex offender for engaging in oral sex with a minor student.
Former Shafter High chemistry teacher Jeff Scheidemantel was sentenced to nine months in jail for manufacturing methamphetamine in his school lab.
About 100 actions have been taken against Kern County educators by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing since 2007
Educators punished: 74
Credentials revoked: 28
Credentials suspended: 43
Suspension of credentials rescinded or terminated: 4
Public reproval by the commission: 7
Reinstatements of credentials following punishment: 3
Source: The Orange County Register
Bakersfield school administrator Vincent Brothers got the death penalty for killing his wife, their three children and his mother-in-law.
They are three of 74 Kern County educators stripped of their teaching credentials by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing in the last five years for crimes or misconduct on and off campus.
Since 2007, the commission has taken action against credentialed educators some 4,000 times statewide, according to the Orange County Register, which has made public for the first time a searchable database showing how the agency handles teacher misconduct cases.
The database can include multiple actions against a single educator.
About 300,000 active educators hold credentials in California. While cases of wrongdoing often make big headlines, the database shows a tiny fraction of the teachers, administrators, tutors and others who are credentialed have discipline issues. The commission reviews about 5,000 cases a year and takes action on about 800, according to The Register.
The 74 Kern County educators who've had their credentials suspended, revoked or denied in the last five years make up an even tinier fraction of educators in Kern -- less than .1 percent. Today, about 8,500 educators in Kern hold teaching certificates, according to county data.
But the 74 stand out for the reasons the commission disciplined them: excessive DUI violations, possessing child porn, urinating in class, hit-and-runs, being under the influence in class, becoming sexually involved with students and petty theft, among other things.
More than half the actions against Kern credential holders involved suspensions; a third involved revocations. The rest were public reprimands. The mix of actions statewide was similar.
While law enforcement and school districts have primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting allegations, it's the commission that prevents those who cross moral and legal lines from ever again harming children in schools. Commissioners take the job seriously, said Erick Casallas, teacher representative on the commission and the 2011 Kern County teacher of the year.
"The commission really wants to make sure teacher quality is where it needs to be -- to make sure our profession is held to the highest esteem," Casallas said. "We want to make sure our teachers are conducting their jobs in a way that's professional."
Since 2007, about 1,500 individuals statewide either were blocked from receiving credentials or lost them after commission review -- more than half of them, or 855, for being convicted of certain sex crimes or drug abuse involving minors, according to The Register. Some 368 educators had their credentials suspended after being formally charged with crimes.
The commission immediately suspends a credential if the educator is charged with a specified sex or drug offense that involves a minor.
In 2008, Foothill High School teacher Tom Vincent Adame allegedly offered to trace his penis on a piece of paper for two female students. He pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors -- lewd conduct and contributing to the delinquency of a minor -- served 10 days in jail, underwent counseling and had his credential suspended. Last year, his request to reinstate that credential was denied, records show.
Sometimes, offenders get their credentials back. Sherry Lynn Anderson in 2007 pleaded no contest two misdemeanors -- battery on and contributing to the delinquency of a minor -- for actions involving a 12-year-old male student when she taught in the Buttonwillow Union School District. Police believed she kissed and sent love notes to the boy.
She regained her credential after undergoing counseling, and substitute taught in the Shafter-area Richland School District for several years. But the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office pulled her from the substitute list when her criminal record came to light. She told The Californian at the time that she was shocked and saddened, and should be allowed to continue her passion -- teaching.
Other times, charges are dropped against educators but their credentials still get pulled due to the nature of the allegations.
That's what happened in March 2010 with Matthew Davis, who was hit with a public nuisance charge for allegedly urinating in a cup in a high school classroom he was leading. Charges were dismissed contingent on him completing community service; Davis was experiencing early stages of dementia, said his attorney, Kyle Humphrey.
Humphrey, who represented several others in the database of disciplined educators -- some of whom have been convicted of sex crimes, and others who've been vindicated -- said in many cases, the commission is "double punishing" school employees when allegations are made and their teaching privileges are taken away even though they were exonerated.
And credentials are many times unfairly yanked when a school employee is accused of misconduct off campus, unrelated to their job, he said.
In about a quarter of Kern County cases the commission has taken action on, the educators were charged with crimes that didn't involve minors and occurred outside school boundaries. Those included driving under the influence, hit-and-run, fraud, disorderly conduct, vehicular manslaughter and forgery.
"Not all charges reflect on your occupation," Humphrey said. "The do-gooders always try to make everything relevant."
Casallas said the commission remains unbiased, and reviews each case independently before deciding to act against an educator's credential. Commissioners review case files that usually include personal background, police reports, letters of recommendation and personal letters.
"I feel like I want to listen to the teacher and really understand why the situation happened in the first place," he said.
The fact the commission has taken action on 74 educators since 2007 here says something about local teachers, said Michelle Johnson, president of the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association.
"That's not a lot," said Johnson, who leads the 1,500-member teachers union. "It's still sad. But with any job, there are bad apples."
It's possible the commission will review more and more cases in the coming years, Casallas said. The commission has sent letters to school personnel reminding them of their obligation to report potential misdeeds. In the most extreme case, the commission can demand a superintendent step down for not acting on complaints.
And people are submitting more names following the sex abuse claims at Los Angeles' Miramonte Elementary School.
Last year, a state auditor called the commission one of the "worst-run" state agencies she ever investigated. The state audit found flaws in the commission's discipline process, including lapses in launching investigations, updating files, gathering facts, tracking cases and revoking credentials. Today, auditors have commended its progress correcting wrongs.