Originally created 05/01/06

Teachers' records are put online



COLUMBIA - Pupils can now do a little homework on the Internet and find out what their teachers have been up to.

Earlier this year, the state Education Department began posting disciplinary actions against educators online.

Last year, 82 teachers had their licenses suspended or revoked. Half were disciplined by the state for improper acts against pupils - acts that mostly involved sexual misconduct and inappropriate physical discipline.

About a third were disciplined for breaking their teaching contracts. Others were disciplined for academic fraud or falsifying their credentials.

In all, there are 291 disciplinary decisions from 2004 and 2005 posted online.

"Our goal here is to make government as transparent as possible and to ensure the public has access to as much information as possible," state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum said.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association, however, thinks the postings are a bad idea, Director Kathy Maness said.

"I realize it's a public record, but it doesn't have to be blasted across a Web page," she said.

Though the information should be public, posting it on the Internet is unfair, said Bob Hazel, a Columbia attorney who has represented teachers who belong to the association.

He said the public airing of disciplinary actions could make some people decide against a teaching career.

"Teachers have enough problems as it is," he said. "It's sure not positive."

Others in education like the idea.

"I think it's a very good tool, from what I can tell, for school administrators and school boards to do background checking on individuals they might be considering hiring," said Paul Krohne, the director of the state School Boards Association. "We'll spread the word that it's out there."

South Carolina has about 55,000 licensed working educators. About the same number of people have credentials but don't work in public schools.

The state Education Department reviews any action or behavior that might violate the standard employment contract. The state board can issue a public reprimand or order a suspension or revocation of a teacher's license.

In one case, Deborah Rogers agreed to a voluntary suspension of her teaching license for a month after she was charged with simple assault over a book-throwing incident involving a pupil. Ms. Rogers resigned her teaching job at Latta Elementary School but was acquitted in Municipal Court, said her attorney, Daniel Shine.

"The public has a right to know a certain level of information as far as professional discipline matters in any profession that is licensed by the state," Mr. Shine said.

He said Ms. Rogers has a job but is not currently teaching.

Ms. Maness said the case shows a teacher can face disciplinary action even after being exonerated by a court.

"It's not fair," she said.