L.A. Now

Audit finds years-long backlog of investigations into accused teachers

Teachers who have been accused of showing pornography to children, kissing a student, or sexual harassment were not investigated in a timely manner by the state agency in charge of revoking education credentials, according to a state audit released Thursday.

The state Commission on Teacher Credentialing also had a backlog of nearly 12,600 cases in the summer of 2009, about three years' worth of cases, according to a report by the California state auditor. The commission also did not keep good track of data, some of which was entered by hand, and it was often slow to look into allegations.

"These conditions appear to have resulted in delayed processing of alleged misconduct and potentially allowed educators of questionable character to retain a credential," wrote Elaine M. Howle, the state auditor, in a letter to the lawmakers.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said the audit revealed that changes must be made.

"The audit clearly shows the commission needs to overhaul its process and reevaluate its personnel," Steinberg's spokesman, Mark Hedlund, said in an e-mail.

The commission employs 32 full-time staffers, including six investigators, and is overseen by an appointed board. Last year, the board voted to revoke the credentials of 306 teachers and administrators.

But auditors found that commission employees often moved slowly and noted that it took more than two months to begin reviewing 11 of the 29 cases auditors looked at.

In one case, a teacher was allegedly seen kissing a student in 2007, but the commission did not contact the school district until 2009. The commission learned that another instructor allegedly showed middle school students pornography in 2008, but did not request police documents until 2010. By then, the vice principal who reported the incident had retired, and a student who saw the pornography did not recall the details, and others could not be found.

The teacher went to work at another school in the district, and the committee closed the case without taking any action. A commission manager "did not offer any explanations as to why the division did not investigate this case sooner," according to the audit.

The commission staffers must wait for local law enforcement and school districts to finish investigations before beginning theirs.

The audit recommended that the commission improve its database and provide more training to ensure information is properly collected and easy to retrieve and study whether it needs more employees to handle its workload. The commission also grants teacher credentials.

"We're taking the recommendations very seriously," said Marilyn Errett, a commission spokeswoman.

The commission has already made several changes, including entering arrest data electronically, Errett said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World