The number of teachers who have lost or given up their license for sexual misconduct has more than doubled in the last five years. And some critics say the state is helping to keep these teachers under the radar.
Take the case of this former teacher who worked at a school for teenage special education students in Bellingham. She resigned while under investigation for engaging with a male student on Facebook, going to his home when his parents weren't there and having "inappropriate sexual contact" with him.
When we asked her about the relationship, she denied it.
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"Sorry. I didn't have one," she said.
We have withheld the teacher's name because these are accusations only. She is one of 63 former or current Massachusetts public school teachers who have had their licenses revoked, suspended or restricted from 2009-2014 after allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct.
But search the internet, look for records, and in many cases, you won't find anything about the accusations. We asked the youth organization where the former Bellingham teacher now works, and they told us they had no idea.
"People are very, very reluctant. They don't want to ruin someone's reputation. They don't want the school to somehow be on the news," said Jetta Bernier of the child advocacy organization Massachusetts Citizens for Children.
Child advocates say because the age of sexual consent in Massachusetts is 16, discipline for teachers is often a murky system where sexual misconduct is shielded from public view.
When we asked Bellingham Public Schools if they alerted parents to the allegations or how they made sure no other students were at risk, the superintendent told us it was a personnel issue and he could not comment.
The Commissioner of the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would not comment either. A spokesperson told us it is not the department's role to make sure the school - as mandated reporters - did in fact alert DCF, but the department insists they hold teachers accountable.
"Commissioner Chester supports criminalizing all sexual contact between educators and students. While our authority is limited to taking action against an educator's license, we value our working relationship with criminal justice authorities, and we work collaboratively with them when a crime has been committed."
READ THE FULL STATEMENT BELOW:
State documents obtained by necn under a Freedom of Information Act request show the state often lets teachers give up their license and avoid a more public process. A letter the state sent to the Bellingham teacher was strikingly similar to letters it has sent to dozens of teachers accused of sexual misconduct. A lawyer for the department of education wrote that they were "obliged to investigate" the allegations as it pertained to her license. But, the lawyer went on, "in the alternative, should you wish to avoid the uncertainty and expense of an investigation and subsequent hearing, you may sign the enclosed Surrender Agreement..."
"You don't say anything, we won't say anything," Bernier remarked.
Bernier said it's an outrage that of the 63 teachers necn reviewed who were accused of sexual misconduct, 40 percent were allowed to surrender their licenses with little fanfare - even in cases where the state said DCF had investigated and found "sexual abuse was supported."
"Parents are mandated by law to send their children to school and yet schools are not mandated right now to protect those children," Bernier said.
One teacher who taught music at a school in Western Massachusetts resigned after the school alleged that he had an inappropriate relationship with a female student. The school declined comment, but the teacher confirmed that he is the father of a former student's child. He would not confirm that he was the person posting under his name on Craigslist, offering "private music lessons" in his home to "children and adults of all ages and experience."
Teachers and coaches who worked at schools located in Boxford, Winthrop, Brighton, Franklin, Randolph - all accused of inappropriate sexual conduct - were allowed to retire under the radar. Several of the accused teachers went on to work with children in other ways - substitute teaching, in-home tutoring, coaching Little League, working with at-risk youth, or serving as a secretary of the PTO.
"If we cannot trust you to protect and care for a child -- no matter what age that child is, you simply can't work with children. Period," Bernier said.