September 26, 2017 02:52 PM
Minnesota teachers accused of engaging in sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior with students have not been reported to law enforcement, according to a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation.
A review of public records and interviews with law enforcement revealed the Minnesota Board of Teaching failed to report at least 17 teachers accused of those allegations dating to the 1980s.
The board, which has the authority to suspend or revoke a teacher's license, does not consider itself a mandated reporter of allegations of sexual or inappropriate behavior involving teachers and students.
The board stated it is "not aware of any legal obligation" to report disciplinary action related to such allegations to law enforcement.
Instead, the board has operated in a vacuum for decades in which it conducts internal investigations and determines what qualifies as criminal behavior.
"The specifics behind some of this conduct often may reflect unacceptable and unprofessional behavior and/or boundary violations, but do not constitute criminal conduct and law enforcement involvement," Alex Liuzzi, the board's interim executive director, said in a statement.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS compiled all of the Minnesota Board of Teaching stipulation agreements into a public database. The stipulations are public documents that detail all disciplinary actions taken against teachers dating back to the 1980s.
He declined multiple requests for an on-camera interview but added in the statement, "The Board has an obvious interest in ensuring that the teachers who have engaged in inappropriate or illegal conduct are appropriately disciplined when warranted."
Janet Reiter, the Chisago County Attorney, says that practice puts students at risk. She believes the board is not capable of making such determinations.
"What (the board) are investigating is criminal activity and the fact that it doesn't end up into (sic) the hands of our law enforcement agencies is astounding," Reiter said. "It's just simply unbelievable."
Reiter first learned of the board's failure to report allegations of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior last year when her office launched an investigation against a former teacher in Rush City.
Jon Hughes, 57, was convicted earlier this month of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct while in a position of authority.
Investigators determined he repeatedly had sexual contact with a student at Rush City High School, where Hughes taught business and coached for nearly 20 years.
After he pleaded guilty, Hughes apologized to the former student during an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
"I hope she realizes that I'm sorry and that she can heal," Hughes said.
That student reported Hughes to the sheriff's office in 2014 after decades of counseling, but it wasn't the first time she had stepped forward.
Investigators learned she earlier reported her relationship with Hughes to the board back in 2000, according to a criminal complaint.
Hughes signed a stipulation agreement with the board in 2001 in which he acknowledged he engaged in an "inappropriate relationship" with the student.
The board revoked Hughes' license but never shared the allegations with the sheriff's office.
In a statement, the board said its "practices did not involve sharing disciplinary action with law enforcement" at the time.
"This was eye-opening for our prosecutors and law enforcement," Reiter said. "This was something that was unprecedented."
The state Legislature passed a law earlier this year, after the Hughes case became public, which will require the board to notify law enforcement of such allegations -- but only if it takes disciplinary action. That means the board will continue to act as a gatekeeper in which its process determines which allegations should be investigated by law enforcement. That law will go into effect next year.
The board's disciplinary process, which occurs behind closed doors, takes at least 30 days and would essentially delay criminal investigations that often depend on immediate access to evidence.
Reiter says law enforcement should be notified within 24 hours.
"These cases must be investigated criminally so these people can be held accountable," she said.
The board's discipline of teachers is detailed in legal documents called stipulation agreements. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reviewed more than 800 of those files, which are stored at the board's office in Roseville.
That review identified roughly two dozen other teachers who were accused of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior who may have never been reported for criminal investigation.
However, in those instances, law enforcement did not retain records long enough to verify whether the allegations were ever reported by the Board of Teaching.
The stipulation agreements are considered public information, but the board only allows them to be reviewed in person or by requesting a specific document via mail.
Unlike other state boards, the Board of Teaching does not post the information online.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS compiled the stipulations into a database and map that allows users to search disciplinary actions taken by the board.
*Editor’s Note: This article originally stated 18 teachers were never reported to law enforcement. That number has been adjusted based on information not available at the time of publication.
The map below does not include charter and private schools, intermediate school districts, substitute teachers, and teachers named in stipulation agreements in which the district was not identified.
Click on the district to see the specific Minnesota Board of Teaching files or search by teacher name or district. Navigation icons are located at the bottom left corner of the map screen.
View the map on your desktop or tablet below:
Joe Augustine and Eric Chaloux
Updated: September 26, 2017 02:52 PM
Created: September 25, 2017 05:30 PM
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