I-Team: Teachers behaving badly, losing their jobs

22News I-Team Investigation

PALMER, Mass. (WWLP) – Usually it’s the teacher disciplining students in school but an exclusive 22News I-Team Investigation found teachers are losing their jobs every year because of their own behavior. The I-Team discovered how the use of cell phones and social media are only making it easier to cross the line.

There are roughly 20 teachers under investigation right now for some kind of misconduct. We went through cases from the last five years and found dozens of teachers have lost their license over everything from physical abuse to sexual misconduct.

Physically abusing a special needs student, spraying a bottle of cleaning fluid in a child’s face, slapping a student and throwing chairs; only the start of what the 22News I-Team discovered after requesting information on Massachusetts teachers who’ve had their licenses revoked, suspended or voluntarily surrendered in the last five years.

We also discovered social media has only made it easier to connect.  A teacher in Franklin is serving a one-year suspension after he was caught sending inappropriate tweets and snap chats to high school girls.

In Westfield, flirtatious text messages and inappropriate e-mails got an English teacher’s license revoked.

Cell phones and social media only makes it easier to connect outside of the classroom, and in many cases, leads to drinking with minors like a teacher in Westborough was caught doing.

Sometimes even leading to a sexual relationship with students like a teacher in Palmer who was fired after he was caught sending thousands of sexual messages to students, and having a physical relationship with at least one of them.

In another case involving a Leicester teacher, the student was only 12 years old.

Linda Pisano prosecutes student/teacher cases and other child abuse cases out of the Northwestern district attorneys office.

“There’s a level of trust that these kids have in their teachers and should have in their teachers and so there’s that violation of trust,” Pisano said.

Pisano says hundreds of child abuse cases come in a year but only a third go to trial. Part of that is because some of the cases can’t be proven or are found untrue. In other cases, like student/teacher cases, it’s hard for students to face their teacher in court and choose not to.

Many students don’t come forward at all.

As a recent victim was speaking she said, “I felt like I couldn’t tell. Who would believe me? They’re a teacher, who am I? They’re going to believe the teacher over me. So, her abuse went on for 5 years because she didn’t feel like she could tell and be believed,” Pisano added.

“It’s very rare but one case is too much,” said State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester.

The 22News I-Team talked to Chester who says these cases don’t happen often enough to cut-off all contact between teachers and students outside of school.

“I would hate to cut off a communication channel that most people are using very responsibly in ways that open up opportunities for students and parents,” Chester said.

Which ultimately led to this question: Are we doing enough to protect our kids in the classroom?

“We’ve increased the scrutiny and the attention to making sure we are not inadvertently hiring somebody who has the kind of background that we don’t want to see in a person who’s working with children,” Chester said.

Chester said they’ve not only expanded background checks and require CORI checks on licensed educators, but they also started fingerprinting new hires last year and by the Fall of 2016 all licensed public educators in the state will be in a fingerprint database.

Chester says their preventative measures are good, but many times the teacher doesn’t have a history of abuse.
It may start in the classroom, which is why it’s so important students and parents report anything that doesn’t seem right.

You can report any concerns to the principal of your child’s school or the district superintendent. The best place to report any possible abuse is with the Department of Children and Families.

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