Report: NC school systems protecting teachers arrested for sex crimes

by WorldTribune Staff, June 16, 2017

Some teachers in North Carolina who have been charged with sex crimes are being shifted to other schools rather than having their teacher licenses revoked, a report found.

“It’s become clear that some teachers are being allowed to resign in one North Carolina county only to be hired weeks or months later in another one,” American Lens reported on June 15.

A follow-up to a January report, which “detailed the disparities between teacher arrests in the media versus the state maintained list of teacher license revocations and disciplinary actions,” found that, in 2016, 22 North Carolina teachers were charged with “crimes of a sexual nature involving students.”

Some of them continue to teach.

ABC 11 reported a case involving a teacher named Troy Pickens who was charged with sexual offenses but has yet to show up on the teacher license revocation listing.

ABC 11 reported that Durham police arrested Pickens, 26, and charged him with sexual offenses from 2015 involving a 14-year-old female student. Pickens is currently a teacher in Wake County at Durant Road Middle School.

American Lens noted that “around six years ago, the North Carolina legislature asked NC DPI, under the direction of former Superintendent June Atkinson, to come up with a background check procedure proposal.”

“Atkinson shoved the project in a drawer for over four years. The legislature never followed up either.”

In 2015, USA Today published a report rating the states on their teaching hiring practices. North Carolina received an “F.”

Fast forward to 2017. One individual American Lens reported it has been tracking is Robert Woodard, age 28, a former band teacher at Chatham Central High School who was arrested earlier this year on charges that included 8 felony counts of indecent liberties with a student, 7 felony counts of first-degree sexual offense of a child 15 years of age or younger and 18 felony counts of felony sex act with a student.

There was a March 20 court date for Woodard, who at the time was still in jail and had not bonded out. Woodard bonded out on June 6.

Court records of the hearing are not available yet, however “a search for Woodard in the NC Department of Corrections system shows that he was required to register as a sex offender for a minimum of ten years,” American Lens reported. “His sex offender records reveal this is not his first conviction and sex offender registration.”

Woodard was previously arrested out of state on June 25, 2006 and was convicted on October 9, 2006.

“Here’s the rub,” American Lens noted. “Woodard allegedly passed a background check to teach in Chatham County schools. … Arguably, had Dr. Atkinson followed through on the background check proposal tasked to her, Woodard might not have been able to victimize students in Chatham county.”

Since its initial January report, American Lens said it had documented nearly weekly teacher arrests in North Carolina between April and the beginning of May.

Meanwhile, at the General Assembly, “the bill which addresses background checks for educators has yet to make it out of the finance committee.”

North Carolina House Bill 117, Protect Students in Schools, was filed in February of this year.

The most recent Preferred Committee Substitution (PCS) for the bill includes a provision that might reduce the under-reporting of teachers who resign voluntarily due to misconduct or an arrest.

“If a teacher’s criminal history is relevant to the teacher’s resignation, regardless of whether the teacher has given at least 30 days’ notice, the board shall report to the State Board of Education the reason for an employee’s resignation.”

What the bill does not stipulate is action by the State Board of Education or DPI with such resignation information, American Lens noted.

“Without a master list of names, a strict reporting process and a hiring process requiring districts to check a master list for issues, the districts will have the ability to keep shuffling bad teachers from school to school.

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