Educators with felony records face certification revocation under new law

Up to 20 educators have ever been certified to teach in Idaho despite convictions for violent felonies such as aggravated battery, kidnapping and assault.

Some of those educators are currently employed, Lisa Colon Durham, the State Department of Education’s professional standards director, told the Professional Standards Commission at a Friday meeting.

When a new law banning teachers with those convictions goes into effect on July 1, those educators will face hearings to determine whether they can keep their certifications.

“Our intention is to give those individuals a heads up as soon as possible,” Durham said. “We’re not going to wait until July 1 to let them know — especially if they’re currently employed.”

The Legislature passed restrictions on teachers’ criminal histories during the waning days of the 2020 session. Senate Bill 1323 prevents anyone with a felony conviction for aggravated assault, aggravated battery, murder, kidnapping, rape, trafficking and other crimes from becoming a certified teacher.

This goes one step farther than the previous law, which prevented certification only if an applicant had been convicted of those felonies against children, specifically.

Gov. Brad Little signed the bill on March 24.

Many school districts already have policies that prohibit employing anyone convicted of these violent felonies. Colon Durham said that fewer than 20 people have ever been certified to teach in Idaho despite those crimes.

She did not give a specific count, “in the spirit of protecting individuals.”

Moving forward, the state will not certify any new teachers convicted of these crimes. Durham said the law also extends to classified staff, including bus drivers, cooks, custodians, secretaries and paraprofessionals.

“Where the biggest impact is going to be on our districts is when they’re hiring classified employees,” she said. “The law says they cannot hire them, if that background check comes up with a felony conviction of those, they actually have to terminate employment.”

Commission disciplines five educators for misconduct

Without much ado, the commission also moved forward issuing letters of reprimand and suspending licenses for the following teachers:

  • Susan Bedke: Commissioners voted to suspend Bedke’s teaching license indefinitely, until she is medically certified to return to work, and completes a boundary course. Bedke, a former high school teacher in the Cassia County School District, pleaded guilty to attempted possession of a controlled substance in Cassia County Magistrate Court. The commission alleges that Bedke asked a high school student if his mother could purchase Hydrocodone, Vicodin and an antibiotic on a trip to Mexico, and paid the student $50. Bedke did not respond to the commission’s findings or offer for a hearing, deputy attorney general Robert Berry said.
  • Michael Sermon: The former Buhl High School teacher pleaded guilty to battery against a minor female at the school without her consent. Sermon voluntarily surrendered his teaching credentials in a letter to the PSC.
  • Scott Smith: The former Wilder School District teacher will have his teaching certificate suspended for two years, and must take ethics and boundary courses. The commission found that Smith had violated ethics rules a number of times, including when he allowed students to play “inappropriate” computer games in class, gave students credit for work “that had not been completed, graded or even started,” and cursed at or around students. Commission documents show that Smith signed a stipulation consenting to the suspension.
  • Charles Ramsay: Commissioners voted to issue a letter of reprimand to Ramsay, a former Glenns Ferry High School teacher. The commission says that Ramsay failed to maintain a professional relationship with students. According to PSC documents, Ramsay held one-on-one study sessions with students after the district asked him not to, and had “inappropriate paperwork” in his desk including explicit drawings. Ramsay agreed to the discipline, according to commission documents, but wrote a letter to the SDE saying the district knew about his study sessions and that some of the paperwork  in his desk was “immature blather I never looked at.”
  • Scott O’Brady: The commission voted to revoke O’Brady’s certificate, saying he forged an Idaho teaching certificate to teach at the American School of Bangkok in 2016-17. The PSC says O’Brady used a forged teaching certificate when he applied to teach in Bangkok, which said he was certified in math, social studies, geography and computer science and was signed by the wrong state superintendent of education. He was certified only in geography. O’Brady did not respond to the PSC’s findings or offer for a hearing, Berry said.
Sami Edge

Sami Edge

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday