There’s an alarming uptick in the number of cases of teacher misconduct being investigated in Arizona. David Spelich, head of Arizona’s Department of Education investigative unit told state legislators, “We are drowning as far as how many cases we have to handle.”
Arizona has an investigative unit as part of its Department of Education. This unit’s job is to investigate any reports of misconduct and determine if they’re credible, then forward them on to the State Board of Education if disciplinary action is necessary. The State Board of Education can suspend or revoke a teacher’s certificate as part of disciplinary action if they see fit.
According to Spelich, who spoke before Governor Doug Ducey’s Justice for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse task force last week, “It’s eye-opening the amount of misconduct that our agency looks at.” Misconduct includes anything from inappropriate conduct to sexual misconduct.
Lawmakers are concerned that loopholes in the current legislation and the use of social media may be putting students at risk. Currently, Spelich’s unit is only charged with investigating certified teachers, however, there are thousands of non-certified personnel in schools like coaches and student teachers that the Spelich’s unit has no authority to investigate should a claim arise.
The use of social media messaging is also a cause of concern for many on the task force. While this is often one of the most effective ways for teachers to communicate with students, lawmakers fear it opens up a new avenue for misconduct and potential predators.
Spelich acknowledged it’s an issue, noting, “We have seen a tremendous amount of grooming with the explosion of social media.” The task force has recommended the state provide specific guidelines for schools and teachers on appropriate boundaries.
Arizona is not the only state concerned with teacher and personnel misconduct. Many other states require teachers to participate in regular misconduct training. Erin’s Law which has been adopted by 37 states, requires all public schools implement “prevention-oriented” child abuse programs for students, school personnel and parents.