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Teacher misconduct set record in 2000

While they are often disciplinarians, last year — more than any other year — teachers were the ones behaving badly.

According to most recent State Office of Education data, a record 31 teachers had their licenses revoked or suspended last year. The total far outpaced any year since the state started keeping track in 1992.

The trend has continued this year. The most recent allegations of teacher wrongdoing were leveled this week at a Roy High School teacher. The former special-education teacher is accused of giving good grades in exchange for prescription painkillers.

Eileen Rencher, spokeswoman for the state office, says Internet pornography and sexual relations between teachers and students are pushing the numbers higher.

Nine of last year's 31 suspensions and revocations were for improper sexual conduct involving students and another three were for off-campus sex crimes. Seven were for viewing or storing Internet pornography on school computers, and one was for the "physical abuse of several students over the past three years," according to state records.

For the most part, the suspensions and revocations are levied against men. Only 17 of 128 license actions since June 1992 have been taken against female teachers.

With 31 revocations or suspensions in 2000, Rencher says the problem is growing. The next-highest total was 18 in 1998.

And this year the numbers aren't going down.

Carol Lear, attorney for the state education office, said the state has taken license action against five teachers already this year. And two more cases uncovered this week — including the one involving the Roy teacher — are expected to bring further license sanctions.

In Henderson, Nev., a former geography and history teacher at Cedar City High School had an initial court appearance Thursday on four felony counts of sexual misconduct involving a 15-year-old former student from a Nevada school.

"We're just seeing more and more of these cases," Rencher said.

At times, teacher behavior can border on the ridiculous.

One Washington School District teacher had his license revoked for "unprofessional behavior, including allegations of living at the high school for a period of time, keeping dogs in his vehicle at the school contrary to his supervisors' direction, and close ties to a felony drug investigation."

Another man was stripped of his license for "two misdemeanor drug offenses, storing of pornographic images on his school computer, and throwing firecrackers out of his school windows at students."

A third teacher's license was revoked because he "accompanied 130 of his choir students off campus during school hours to harass a craft store owner."

But while a few instances are slightly comical, most of them are sobering and tragic.

One Iron County School District teacher had his license revoked for supplying pornographic videos to pupils. Another, from the North Summit School District, had his licensed suspended for exposing himself to two female students as they walked home from school.

"The problems that come to this level are long-standing and very serious," Lear said. "We have about 24,000 teachers, and most of their problems don't reach this level. Many teachers who do have these problems are getting help, but you have to ask yourself: 'Would I want this person as a role model for my children?' "

Members of the state's Professional Practice Advisory Commission, including Lear, are more often becoming judges rather than administrators.

"We have a hearing and present evidence and have (teachers accused of unprofessional conduct) defend themselves, just like in court," Rencher said.

The commission's recommendations must be approved by the State Board of Education.