Feb. 18, 2008
The Oregonian
Schools cut secret deals with abusive teachers

They call it “passing the trash,” and it’s a common policy that lets child
abusers resign and move to another district

By AMY HSUAN, MELISSA NAVAS and BILL GRAVES
The Oregonian


It would take months for the agency that licenses Oregon teachers to
discipline a Salem-area teacher for inappropriately touching at least eight
girls.

To get Kenneth John Cushing, then 44, away from Claggett Creek Middle
School students immediately, administrators cut him a deal: If Cushing
resigned, they would conceal his alleged conduct — clutching students’
waists, touching their buttocks and massaging their shoulders — from the
public.

Cushing signed the pact — obtained by The Oregonian through public
records requests — with Salem-Keizer Public Schools in 2004, and officials
promised not to reveal the teacher’s behavior if potential employers called
looking for a reference. They would attribute his departure to “personal
reasons,” the document reads, and make “no reference to this agreement.”

Salem’s deal is just one of 47 similar confidential settlement agreements
obtained or confirmed by the newspaper.

During the past five years, nearly half of Oregon teachers disciplined for
sexual misconduct with a child left their school districts with confidential
agreements. Most, like Cushing’s, promised to keep alleged abuse quiet.
Some promised cash settlements, health insurance and letters of
recommendation as incentives for a resignation.

The practice is so widespread, school officials across the country call it
“passing the trash.”

The Oregonian reviewed 767 cases of educator misconduct over the past 10
years in which the state commission revoked or suspended licenses for
misbehavior. Sex-related offenses ranked the most common, and in 165
cases the agency disciplined educators for misconduct ranging from touching
students or sending them love notes to molestation and rape.

This, of course, is a tiny fraction of the 35,000 educators who teach, mentor
and coach in Oregon.

The state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission eventually revoked
Cushing’s license in January 2005. He went on to teach at a charter school in
Tucson, Ariz., in the 2006-07 school year and drew no complaints or
reprimands there, administrators said. He left after one year, citing “personal
reasons.”

In August, he started work at Cardigan Mountain School, a private, all-boys
school in New Hampshire. Headmaster David McCusker said Cushing didn’t
reveal his misconduct in Oregon when he was hired, and background checks
revealed nothing.

Cushing declined to comment to The Oregonian. McCusker says Cushing will
keep his job there. “We have been pleased with his performance,” McCusker
said.

Secret and expedient

Oregon public school officials say an educator suspected of sexual
misconduct gives them few options. If they fire the educator, they may face a
costly legal battle with teachers union lawyers. Putting an employee on paid
leave is also expensive because the commission takes, on average, nearly
16 months to complete investigations.

The Oregonian found that in 2006-07, 28 Oregon educators missed 993
workdays while on paid leave during investigations of misconduct, at a cost of
about $350,000 in salaries and hiring substitutes.

Cutting a resignation agreement offers the fastest, cheapest way for a district
to push a problem teacher out of the classroom, school officials say.

That’s what the Three Rivers School District did with Stephen John Koller, a
30-year-old science teacher who later admitted to an inappropriate
relationship with a 17-year-old senior at Illinois Valley High School.

School officials first notified the state in January 2003 that Koller was under
investigation for allegations he was living with a female student.

Initially, the state commission ordered Koller into counseling. Then the Three
Rivers school board offered Koller a deal: $10,000 in severance, six months
of health insurance and a letter that said, “He is personally committed to his
work and will work extra hours to be successful.”

In October 2004, the commission revoked Koller’s license, a decision that
prevented him from using his recommendation to apply for work in another
Oregon public school.

Koller, who declined comment, never taught Oregon high school students
again. He subsequently worked at two community colleges, where
administrators say they were unaware of his past sexual conduct...

Michael Morey, a lawyer who represents victims of sexual abuse and
has worked on several cases involving teachers, says the “cover-
up” denies victims the chance to know they are not alone and
shields school officials from accountability.

“Every organization that has an involvement with children should
have open transparency and full disclosure when it comes to the
abuse of children,” Morey said.

Similar problems with secret deals in California led the state Supreme Court
to rule that districts can be sued for such pacts. The decision largely put an
end to resignation deals, said Mary Armstrong, a lawyer for the California
Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

In 1997, the California court ruled that a 13-year-old student sexually
molested by Robert Gadams, a middle school vice principal in Livingston
Union School District, could sue for fraud and negligent misrepresentation
three districts that previously employed Gadams. Gadams had been
repeatedly disciplined for sexual misconduct and received resignation
agreements from all three districts.

“The secret deals are one of the main things that keep the wheels greased
on the machinery that keeps passing around the molesters,” said Mary Jo
McGrath, school law attorney and sexual abuse expert in Santa Barbara,
Calif...

Still, lengthy investigations remain problematic.

In January 2006, Texas officials notified the commission that an Oregon
teacher, Neil Martin Abrahams, sent mail to an imprisoned sex offender that
included images of boys in swimsuits and information from the North
American Man/Boy Love Association.

A commission investigator interviewed Abrahams, a 51-year-old substitute
teacher working in four Portland-area school districts, in September 2006.
Abrahams “admitted that he had fallen in love with a male student during a
prior teaching assignment” in Texas, according to a commission report.

But after the investigator resigned, the case sat among the pending cases
until August 2007, when the commission revoked Abrahams’ license.

Abrahams said he taught three to four days a week between the initial
complaint and his discipline. He was never arrested or charged with a crime.
He lost his license because he admitted to being attracted to children.
Abrahams signed the stipulated order, but stated at the time that he didn’t
believe the commission’s evidence supported all of its findings.

Much of the commission’s decision-making on teacher discipline is shrouded
from public view. The status of investigations is kept confidential, even from
school officials. In addition, the commission dismisses about half of the 200
complaints it receives each year.

Those, too, are kept confidential from the public and school officials, under a
state law designed to protect innocent teachers from false accusations.

Through public records requests, The Oregonian uncovered two confidential
settlement agreements in which the state commission promised not to
discipline accused educators if they in turn agreed not to teach in Oregon. In
a third confidential settlement agreement, the commission promised not to
discipline a teacher publicly after going to mediation.

One of the agreements was reached in 2000 with Glen “Skip” Morris Kinney
Jr., an elementary school teacher in the Redmond School District.

Kinney befriended a fourth-grader in his class, whom he took under his wing
and treated like a member of his family. The girl said she grew to trust
Kinney, even more than her father.

In 1991, when she turned 16 and Kinney was 32, she said, they started
having sex. In 1996, following a 14-month investigation, Kinney was charged
in Deschutes County with 19 counts of sex abuse. A judge acquitted him in
1999. Kinney acknowledged having sex with the girl, but only after she turned
18, the legal age of consent.

In 2000, Kinney signed a confidential agreement with the state promising to
never teach in Oregon again. The deal allowed the state to avoid a contested
case hearing. In exchange, the agency would not investigate him, discipline
him or enter his name into a national clearinghouse that tracks teachers
subjected to state action.

That agreement didn’t keep Kinney from trying to teach again. In 2001,
according to Montana school officials, Kinney obtained a license to teach
there. Jackie Boyle, communication director for the Montana Office of Public
Instruction, says there is no record of Kinney actually teaching in the state.
But Boyle also said it is unlikely that Montana school officials ever knew of
Kinney’s conduct in Oregon. Montana does not make such settlement
agreements.

When contacted by The Oregonian, Kinney said he is no longer teaching and
works in construction in Montana.

Chamberlain, who wasn’t the commission’s director at the time, said she can’t
comment on the Kinney case because of the confidentiality clause.

However, Chamberlain says such agreements are reached when
commissioners recognize educators could pose harm to students, but don’t
have the evidence to charge them with misconduct...

Oregon needs to be more aggressive in deterring offenders who rely on
secrecy and ignorance, Walker said.

“There is a conspiracy of silence, and we need to blast it open,” Walker said.
“No children should be robbed of their childhood by an adult.”
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Finding Good Teachers

The California Teachers
Association is hurting our
students, teachers and
schools. Its failed
one-size-fits-all approach to
education ignores the huge
differences between teachers.
Parents and teachers know all
teachers do not learn in the
same way or at the same pace.
Some of them are far, far
behind in intelligence,
education, and understanding
of how kids learn. They should
not have full responsibility for
any classroom. Pay the good
teachers double or triple what
they're getting now, and put
them in charge of several
classrooms. Each master
teacher should be deeply
involved in several classrooms,
guiding several beginning or
slow-to-learn teachers.