The Department of Education closed out 19 employee misconduct investigations during the first three months of the year, resulting in six terminations and five resignations or retirements in lieu of termination, according to data shared Tuesday with the state school board.
The report by the department’s human resources office included for the first time the outcomes of resolved cases, prompted by feedback from Board of Education members.
Among those 19 completed cases, investigators determined three reports were unsubstantiated and those employees were returned to work, Assistant Superintendent Barbara Krieg said in a quarterly update on employees on paid leave while under investigation for alleged wrongdoing.
“In all of the other cases, there was some form of disciplinary action,” said Krieg, who oversees the DOE’s central human resources office. “What this tells us is that for 11 employees out of the total 19 whose misconduct was sufficiently serious, they are no longer with the DOE.”
Other disciplinary actions included written and oral reprimands and suspension.
The exact nature of the misconduct was not publicly disclosed because it involves protected personnel data. The department does, however, provide employee position titles and the general nature of allegations for all open cases in a given quarter.
As of March 31 there were 34 DOE employees on paid leave pending the results of investigations. Most of the cases involve teachers accused of “inappropriate conduct toward students.”
That’s down from 63 investigations that were pending at the end of 2014, when the Board of Education began probing the department’s handling of cases. The board, citing concerns over the cost of paid leave and the stigma for employees who might eventually be exonerated, called for quarterly progress updates at the time.
The 34 current investigations include 18 cases against teachers. The teacher investigations involve allegations of inappropriate conduct toward students (11 cases), workplace violence (two cases) and one case each of inappropriate sexual relations with a student, hostile work environment, inappropriate conduct toward staff and sexual harassment. One teacher is also under a “suitability analysis” investigation to determine whether he or she is still fit for public employment and to work in close proximity with children.
Officials emphasized that overall the cases represent a small fraction of employees in the Department of Education, which has more than 20,000 salaried employees.
Brian De Lima, chairman of the board’s Human Resources Committee, said he believes the department has significantly improved its handling of misconduct cases, noting that the three unsubstantiated cases were resolved in under six months — a vast improvement over two years ago when most accused employees would linger on paid leave for a year or more.
“One of the concerns was if people were being wrongly accused, we wanted them to be returned to work promptly. … We would hate for a person who was wrongly accused to be out of the classroom with that stigma,” De Lima said. “On the other hand, we had someone who was terminated being paid for 12-plus months (on leave), so that’s the other extreme.”
He and other board members commended the department for stepping up the “quality” of investigations through training of investigators (typically school vice principals) and standardizing procedures. But members called on the department to now focus on training employees to prevent investigations in the first place.
Krieg, the assistant superintendent for human resources, said all schools provide orientations for new and returning employees that include information on the department’s Code of Conduct and prohibited behavior.
“That’s not just handed out to employees,” Krieg said. “My understanding is that schools are doing more than just a perfunctory job of really introducing and orienting their employees.”
BOE member Maggie Cox, a retired Kauai principal, asked the department to analyze its misconduct cases for demographic information such as whether an accused employee is an emergency hire, a new employee or a licensed or unlicensed teacher. The information could then be used to better target training, she said.
BOE member Hubert Minn, a retired teacher, said he believes new teachers would benefit from peer training on steering clear of precarious situations.
“Is it new teachers that are coming in that are falling into some situation where all of a sudden now they’re being accused?” Minn asked. “It’s OK to hand out something in the beginning of the year … but I think down the road it would be very important to address the fact that you don’t want to be caught in one of these situations where a good teacher loses his name or his reputation.”
Krieg said she would reach out to complex-area superintendents “to make sure that we’re not losing the awareness of the urgency and to try to start shifting the educational component … to make sure that the focus is really on the conduct” and not just the investigation process.
CASES STILL UNDER INVESTIGATION
As of March 31 there were 34 pending cases of alleged misconduct by DOE employees. Employees involved are 18 teachers, five educational assistants, a JROTC instructor, two custodians, two school security attendants, two school cooks, a school baker, a school food services manager, a counselor and an office assistant.
NATURE OF ALLEGATIONS:
>> Inappropriate conduct toward students 17
>> Workplace violence 5
>> Sexual harassment 2
>> Inappropriate sexual relations with student 2
>> Suitability analysis 2
>> Violation of DOE drug-free workplace policy 2
>> Misuse or misappropriation of school funds 1
>> Inappropriate conduct toward 1
students; sexual harassment
>> Inappropriate conduct toward staff 1
>> Hostile work environment 1
Source: Department of Education