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Investigation

Footnotes to 'Seattle Schools knew these teachers abused kids — but let them keep teaching'

These footnotes are an addendum to a KUOW investigation about teacher misconduct and lenient discipline in Seattle schools.

Footnote 1: Due process

Under state law, public school educators accused of misconduct are entitled to due process, including hearings with union representatives and a grievance process. While school districts usually start with warnings, superintendents can move right to termination in serious cases of misconduct, like abuse.

When a district fires a teacher without a settlement agreement, the teacher can challenge the decision with a hearing examiner who will make a binding decision to either uphold the termination, or require the district to rehire the employee.

Employees can also challenge firings in court.

“The grievance/arbitration process is long, costly and state law requires us to pay the employee through the employee’s contract until we are able to terminate the employee/contract, if successful,” said Clover Codd, Seattle Public Schools Chief Human Resources Officer, in an e-mail.

But keeping a problem teacher in the classroom also opens districts up to significant liability from families if the educator harms a child, McMinimee said.

Footnote 2: Reference checks

What do hiring managers ask during reference checks?

A principal in Seattle Public Schools, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, sent KUOW the district’s list of reference check questions, and pointed out the wording of question 12:

“Is there any known history in her/his professional or personal life that could be embarrassing to Seattle Public Schools (i.e. alcohol or drug abuse, sexual or child abuse, etc)?”

The principal marveled that anyone in district leadership would consider potential embarrassment to the district more concerning than child safety.

“The most embarrassing part is the question itself,” the principal said.

The principal said that after working for years in the district, “I take this insanity as business as usual, which is a little scary.”

The culture “needs to be exposed and changed,” the principal said, “but it’s a hard road.”

Footnote 3: Superintendent referrals

In Washington state, superintendents inform the state of teacher misconduct.

The state only accepts public complaints in the case of alleged physical or sexual abuse by educators, and only if the complainant has first filed a complaint with the educational service district that oversees the relevant school district, and that agency has not filed a complaint with the state.

Washington leaves it up to superintendents to report educator misconduct to the state for possible action against the educator’s license.

At least 21 other states allow the public to directly file misconduct complaints to state licensing authorities. In Washington, the process is more cumbersome, and is limited only to certain types of misconduct.

Seattle education attorney Jinju Park said it’s risky to make superintendents the arbiters of which misconduct warrants possible state review.

Park, a former assistant attorney general in Arizona, prosecuted teachers for unprofessional conduct.

Arizona lets the public report suspected educator misconduct, which means, Park said, “you're not relying on these school administrators to be gatekeepers of the information.”