Even after convictions, educators are able to hold onto their licenses in North Carolina. Teachers arrested for child sex crimes can keep their licenses until convicted, says Superintendent Catherine Truitt.
Superintendent Truitt's model of justice gives sexual predators greater protection than children.
by: Sloan Rachmuth
It’s hard to imagine a good reason former Cabarrus County teacher Jeremy Flock still has a license in good standing. A year ago, Flock was arrested for sex crimes against children. According to the NC Department of Public Safety, Flock was out on bail for ten months before being convicted of three felony counts of sexually exploiting a minor, one count of soliciting sex from a child, and possession of meth. His punishment? 30 months of probation, which means Flock is out on the streets with an active teaching license in good standing according to the Department of Public Instruction's (DPI) website.
The case of former middle-school teacher Adrian Taylor is equally disturbing. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Cyber Crimes Unit and the FBI began investigating Taylor in November 2021 for distributing child porn. Taylor was suspended from teaching at Community House Middle School after being arrested for felony sexual exploitation of children in February 2022. Records from the state indicate that Taylor has yet to be convicted or sentenced for his alleged crimes and that his teaching license is still valid.
Last week, Education First Alliance (EFA) highlighted many other disturbing cases where teachers keep their licenses after being fired by districts and charged with sex crimes against children.
During Superintendent Truitt's recent presentation of sexual misconduct data to the House's K-12 Committee, she told lawmakers she had reviewed and signed off on over 50 district investigations into teachers' misconduct. Her report suggests that schools are doing a good job of reporting problem teachers to the state.
One school official confronted Superintendent Truitt about a teacher who still had a license in good standing with the state after the district sent notice to the DPI that he had been terminated and arrested for allegedly raping children at a school.
Truitt, responding by email, told the district official: “Please know that legally, a license cannot be revoked until there is a conviction on file. (Teachers) will not appear in DPI’s database as having a revoked license until a guilty verdict is rendered, or they voluntarily surrender their license.”
In other words, “probable cause” is not a violation of state policy, and therefore should not require revocation of an educator's license that would prevent future employment in schools.
But that's not the right argument.
Throughout the years, judges presiding at the state's Office of Administrative Hearings have made these conclusions in cases involving suspensions or revocations of teachers' licenses:
The burden of proof is on the teacher to demonstrate, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the State Board of Education and Superintendent erred in suspending or revoking a teaching license for cause.
If a teacher’s conduct bears a “reasonable and adverse relationship” to the teacher’s ability to perform any professional functions in an effective manner, a license may be suspended or revoked.
If a teacher’s conduct is not consistent with the standards of conduct expected of teachers in this State, they may have their licenses suspended or revoked.
The quasi-judicial agency, based in Raleigh, hears complaints and decides if teachers, and other state employees, have violated agency policies. Hearings also determine the remedies that department heads like Superintendent Truitt can use to deal with teachers under contract with the state.
Superintendent Truitt contends that when school districts terminate teachers for inappropriate behavior that leads to an arrest, they can keep their professional licenses until "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," has been proven, which can only happen in criminal court.
State employees, however, are judged by the policies set out by the agencies they work for according to administrative court decisions:
"[i]n the absence of state constitutional or statutory direction, the appropriate burden of proof must be judicially allocated on considerations of policy, fairness, and common sense."
The Superintendent may recommend suspending or revoking a teacher's license for cause if they violated the standards of professional conduct for educators, and are deemed unfit to hold a teaching license:
Teachers are required in this State, both by Rule and by case law, to maintain the highest level of ethical and moral standards, and to serve as a positive role models for children. 16 N.C.A.C. 6C.0602(b)(2); Faulkner v. New Bern-Craven Board of Education, 311 N.C. 42, 59, 316 S.E.2d 281, 291 (1984)
There are also offenses that can result in immediate licensure suspension or revocation, including:
Failure to fulfill the duties and responsibilities
Failure to comply with such reasonable requirements as the board may prescribe
illegal, unethical, or inappropriate conduct by a person, if there is a reasonable and adverse relationship between the underlying conduct and the continuing ability of the person to perform any of his/her professional functions in an effective manner
Regarding the licensed teachers mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Superintendent should revoke their licenses since Jeremy Flock has been convicted of sex crimes against children, and Adrian Taylor has been arrested for distributing child porn, which makes him unfit to teach anywhere in the state.
THE RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS
Teachers are entitled to defend themselves against allegations made against them at the district and state levels.
Due process generally requires that a teacher (1) be informed in advance of the charges or potential grounds for discipline being considered, (2) be informed about the evidence and witnesses regarding the potential discipline, and (3) have the opportunity to respond to the charges in an informal manner to the decision maker.
In Peace v. Employment Security Commission of N.C., the scope of due process rights for state employees was defined:
Observing that " terminated State employee may avail himself not only of administrative review incorporating full discovery of information and an evidentiary hearing, but may also obtain judicial review of the final agency decision" and concluding "that this procedure fully comports with the constitutional procedural due process requirements mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment, and no additional safeguards are needed to avoid erroneous deprivation"
This means Superintendent Truitt may suspend or revoke the license of a problem teacher, for cause, if the teacher is notified of the charges against them and is given an opportunity to provide evidence that may contradict the state's claims.
The court can reverse the decisions of the Superintendent for these reasons:
If the Superintendent exceeds her authority or jurisdiction. This could happen if Truitt fired a school employee herself, leapfrogging the authority of the district superintendent and local school board.
If the Superintendent acted erroneously. This could happen if the superintendent revokes a teacher’s license based on the wrong set of facts. It is possible that school districts and law enforcement get it wrong, and an innocent teacher faces unfair charges. Nevertheless, the Superintendent can still suspend a teacher's license until more data is available.
If the Superintendent acted arbitrarily or capriciously. The superintendent could act in this manner if she disregards facts and circumstances and takes unreasonable action. It is hard to see how relying on facts uncovered in the school district and law enforcement investigations could be considered unreasonable.
FAILURE TO PROTECT
When current Board Chair Eric Davis took the helm at the beginning of the 2018 school year,
delegated its responsibility over licensure suspensions and revocations to the Superintendent of Public Instruction. State Board policy GOVR-005:
Superintendent Truitt and her team have failed to report instances of teachers surrendering their licenses after arrests on DPI’s website. Her worse offense is allowing convicted pedophiles to keep teaching licenses, which is against state law ( 115C-270.35).
In cases where teachers awaiting trial are facing sex offense charges, Truitt is running on autopilot, allowing local prosecutors to pursue criminal cases against teachers without doing her job: independently monitoring the state's educators.
The teacher licensing board at DPI should consider the teacher's actual conduct and evidence, not just whether it resulted in a criminal conviction.
Note: This story has been updated to include a screenshot of board policy GOVR-OO5