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Parent decries secrecy surrounding improper behavior by his daughter’s teacher - News - The Columbus Dispatch


Bill would allow Ohio schools to find out whether teachers they want to hire are under investigation.

The father of a 12-year-old girl drove from Canton to Columbus on Tuesday to ask state lawmakers to pass a bill he said could have stopped a teacher from having inappropriate contact with students.

“It is simply outrageous that my daughter’s school was prevented by Ohio law from being informed of an active investigation into misconduct committed by this teacher,” Matt Williams said.

Senate Bill 34 would change the rules around what Ohio’s Department of Education can and can’t say about an educator who is under investigation.

Right now, a report to the department about a teacher resigning following accusations of inappropriate contact with students is confidential until the department decides to hold a hearing into whether to limit, suspend or revoke his or her teaching license.

“Sharing these reports could prevent individuals under investigation from moving to new schools,” Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard, said when she introduced the bill to the Senate Education Committee in February.

That’s exactly what Williams said should have happened when his daughter’s private school, Canton Country Day, hired a middle school English teacher named Marc Brightman.

Brightman had quietly resigned from the Tuslaw Local School District in May 2018. According to reporting by The Canton Repository, Tuslaw Superintendent Melissa Marconi planned to recommend that her board of education fire Brightman, but they decided to accept his resignation to “resolve the dispute quickly.”

Six Tuslaw students had alleged that Brightman had inappropriate contact with them that included text messages and gifts, with one student saying the middle school teacher massaged her buttocks, legs and upper thighs.

Brightman requested a hearing with the Education Department to defend himself against these allegations. Neither his attorney, Anthony M. DioGuardi II, nor Brightman immediately responded Tuesday to requests for comment.

Canton Country Day fired Brightman in late October of this year, and Williams told the Senate Education Committee it was, at least in part, because he reported the teacher’s conduct with his daughter and her friends.

“One day after the teacher was terminated, our headmaster received a letter from the Ohio Department of Education on which he was copied as the head of school,” Williams said.

That letter, he added, came “some eighteen months too late.”

After a Dispatch investigative series on a practice dubbed “pass the trash,“ lawmakers in 2008 passed a law allowing the Education Department to automatically revoke the licenses of misbehaving teachers. It also requires schools to immediately remove teachers charged with one of more than 80 criminal offenses from the classroom and holds superintendents criminally liable for failing to report suspected wrongdoing

Kunze told the committee in February that Senate Bill 34 would bring Ohio in line with a federal requirement called the Every Students Succeeds Act.

“Specifically, ESSA requires states to have laws in place that prevent state and local education agencies from assisting school employees from finding a new job if the individual has given the agency probable cause to believe that they have committed sexual misconduct with a minor,” Kunze said.

But some of her fellow Republicans on the committee expressed reservations Tuesday about sharing details of ongoing investigations with potential employers.

Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, floated the idea of limiting the time the education agency has to investigate claims to 30 or 60 days.

“The concern that I have here (involves) a teacher who is doing their job properly and is accused by a student as retaliation,” Brenner said.

Williams responded that he would be OK with that, provided that the teacher is placed on some kind of paid administrative leave during the investigation.

“From my perspective, it seems that the right thing to do is to prioritize the health and safety of students over the privacy of teachers,” Williams said.

Committee Chairwoman Peggy Lehner concluded the hearing on Senate Bill 34 by saying the committee probably would vote on the bill at its next meeting.

Afterward, Williams told The Dispatch he’s not sure the bill will make it out of committee. He’s fielded questions from parents at his daughter’s school about whether the administration should have looked deeper into Brightman’s departure from Tuslaw.

“I get that,” William said. “But as a school administrator you shouldn’t have to become an investigator to discover if a teacher has a shady past.”

astaver@dispatch.com

@AnnaStaver

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