Friday, April 27, 2001

Teachers’ criminal
background to
remain on record

Convictions will stay on file
until they are officially removed
by the DOE or a court

By Christine Donnelly

PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS convicted of crimes no longer will have their personnel files automatically cleared of derogatory information after two to five years, according to the terms of the new employment contract.

If a teacher is convicted in court (including pleading guilty or no contest), or if an arbitrator upholds discipline of any teacher in a case "involving sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct or other criminal activities, the substantiated derogatory materials" may remain in the teacher's personnel file until the Department of Education deems the information unnecessary or until a court arbitrator orders it be removed, according to the contract settlement between the state and the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Teachers may review their personnel files and request that derogatory information more than five years old be removed, but the Department of Education can reject the request.

And the department will have the right to maintain the personnel files of departing employees, including adding negative information if it pertains to the person's suitability for rehire.

The language is a change from the old contract, which held that any derogatory information must be removed from a teacher's personnel file after two years unless the Department of Education explicitly determined the information was still relevant.

Then the information could remain, subject to yearly review for relevance, for three more years. But any derogatory information older than five years had to be destroyed, with no further reviews on relevance.

John Friedman, president of the Hawaii State Parent Teacher Student Association, was surprised to learn that the old contract required all negative information be automatically expunged, and was delighted that would no longer apply to criminal behavior by teachers.

While the "vast majority" of teachers are law-abiding, "anything that provides for a safer environment for our children is applauded," he said.

"Any information about unsavory behavior that would point to an ongoing, underlying deficiency" should stay in the file.

Friedman agreed that every little mistake a teacher makes should not follow his or her career forever, but "when you're talking criminal behavior or sexually deviant behavior that could be a pattern over time, that's different," especially since the teacher could switch schools or get a new principal unaware of past behavior.

At least three male Hawaii public school teachers have been convicted in the last six years of molesting female students. All were jailed and are no longer teaching. And in a civil lawsuit filed this week, a female elementary school teacher on the Big Island was accused of having a sexual relationship with one of her students and of bearing the boy's child.

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