Lawmaker targets teacher database failure - East Valley Tribune: News

Lawmaker targets teacher database failure

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Posted: Friday, October 2, 2009 9:38 pm | Updated: 2:07 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The state House Education Committee chairman plans to investigate how a teacher accused of downloading porn on a classroom computer was hired by at least two East Valley school districts after the allegation was reported to the state.

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The chairman of the state House Education Committee said he plans to launch an investigation as to how a teacher accused of downloading pornography on a classroom computer was able to be hired by at least two East Valley school districts after the allegation was reported to the state.

The 10-member committee also will discuss whether any laws need to be changed or any rules need to be implemented by the state Board of Education in its policies involving teachers under investigation, Rep. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, told the Tribune on Friday.

The pending investigation stems from the Sept. 24 arrest of Coolidge High School computer teacher Alfonso Padilla, 36, on suspicion of 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputies say they discovered more than 50 images of child pornography on his home computer.

In addition to Coolidge, administrators with two East Valley school districts told the Tribune they never would have hired Padilla had they known of other teacher misconduct allegations against him in 2008 when he worked for the Higley Unified School District.

On May 13, 2008, Higley reported to the state that Padilla downloaded adult pornographic images, installed unauthorized software and allowed student access to prohibited Web sites, such as MySpace, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

It took eight months for the state to acknowledge to Higley that Padilla was under investigation, according to a letter dated Jan. 12 by the investigative unit of the state Board of Education.

All three districts say Padilla's name was not added to a state-secure database designed to flag school districts of teachers under investigation or those who have been disciplined for teacher misconduct.

After leaving Higley, Padilla was hired as a substitute teacher in the Gilbert Unified School District in September 2008 and the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa in February 2009. He was most recently hired in Coolidge in June.

"Why wasn't he in that database?," Crandall said of Padilla. "We plan to investigate where the ball was dropped. We want to look and see if a law wasn't followed or if there was a law to follow. This kind of behavior can't continue."

The Education Committee will resume meeting in January.

Charles Easaw, chief investigator for the state Board of Education's investigative unit, said Friday he could not comment on the pending Padilla investigation or recommend any changes in the way investigations into teachers are reported or documented.

"That is a matter for the board," Easaw said.

Padilla was released from a Maricopa County jail on Sept. 26. He is on paid administrative leave from his job at Coolidge High School, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Although there is no state law that stops teachers under investigation from obtaining a job in another district, most local districts have policies in place that prohibit them from being hired until the investigation is completed and dismissed.

Easaw has maintained he cannot comment about the Padilla investigation, why Padilla's name was not in the database or when it was added to the database.

The Padilla incident is the second one in recent months involving a teacher accused of misconduct not being included in the database.

In April, Vince Yanez, executive director of the Arizona Board of Education, told the Tribune that the state board erred when former Chandler El Dorado High School teacher Tamara Hoffman's name was not in that database. Hoffman, 48, was involved in a love triangle that left student Samuel Valdivia, 18, fatally stabbed by her former student Sixto Balbuena, 20, in her home on April 10, according to court records. The state board had launched an investigation into Hoffman in 2007 in connection with her being caught in a questionable situation with Balbuena in a vehicle in 2006 when she was his teacher at Tempe's Marcus de Niza High School.

The investigation was suspended because of a lack of cooperation from Balbuena, and information indicating Hoffman was under investigation was not entered into the database, Yanez said.

State Board of Education member Jaime Molera said the oversight can be blamed on the state Legislature, not on the state board. Molera blamed state budget cuts in education and the state board having to do more with less.

"These investigators are handling a lot of cases, and they get backlogged to the point where these investigations remain open and it's a safety issue for the students," Molera said. "Our budget requests are not even being discussed by the state Legislature, and it's affecting safety, which should be a top priority."

Jacob Moore, president of the state Board of Education, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The board has four investigators who look into allegations of all educator misconduct for the entire state, and each has an average caseload of 85 investigations at any given time, Easaw said. That number is down from an average caseload of 100 last year.

The board plans to hire a fifth investigator soon, Easaw said.

"We're making progress and moving in the right direction," he said.

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CONTACT WRITER: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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