No Access to Teachers' Records
Teachers have used this threat for years:"that will go on your permanent record!" But what happens to teachers' records when they move from one district to another? Some say there is a huge gap in the system.
In a story we brought to you in February, KOMU discovered sexual misconduct allegations between a teacher and students at School of the Osage. Our sources told us that the teacher in question had previous complaints from another school district, but nothing officially was on record. And if there was record of misconduct, it doesn't exist anymore and it doesn't have to.
C.J. Huff has been Superintendent of the Eldon School District for three years. Although new at the process, he knows the importance of hiring a good staff.
"I'm a father of two kids, and making sure we have good quality people in the classroom is really important to me, too," said Huff.
But it's not always an easy task.
"The thing that school districts struggle with is that we are producing a product that happens to be small children, and we have a responsibility to grow and develop in a school setting. We're not producing widgets here," said Huff.
But it's even harder when you don't know a teacher's past. A teacher's employee record in the state of Missouri can be filled with complaints or other mishaps that happened within the district, but when that teacher goes from one district to another, it goes blank. That's because Missouri does not have a law requiring that schools transfer teacher records when they go from one district to another.
School districts do not have to disclose information about a teacher's past, unless legal action was involved. This is an issue that can become problematic when teachers move from one school to another.
"That is a concern about [hiring teachers without records]...the more derogatory type of expression of 'passing the trash' I've guess I've heard," said Tom Quinn, Dept. Of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Huff says that makes it difficult when hiring.
"We can ask about any question we want, the problem is on the other end of the phone is somebody that has to be very cautious about how they answer those questions," said Huff.
Quinn says that choosing certain questions can help the process.
"Would you rehire this person? That is one of the best questions you can ask. And, you know, you're putting them on the spot. They have to give you a yes or no answer," said Quinn.
Even with the right questions asked, school leaders would love a little help to get the information they need to make an educated decision.
"It'd be a real handy tool for us to have if we had access to personnel files. And if those personnel files followed an employee just like student files do," said Huff.
Quinn says he would like to see the records open, as well.
"Having been a superintendent of schools, I would not have an issue with person's records being open. In other words one district could ask another district for a teacher's employment records. There might be some reluctance from some people out there, but I don't see a big problem," said Quinn.
Superintendent Huff told KOMU that hiring new teachers is a science.The type of questioning and thorough checks of references can make all the difference in spotting what he calls, a red flag. And without strict regulations as of now, that science helps protect children the best it can.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says it has no authority in teacher issues. Unless criminal action is involved, it says it has no access to teacher records.