Investigation finds major flaws in vetting troubled teachers

A new USA Today Network investigation uncovered major flaws in the way many states screen teachers and track misconduct.

The USA Today probe of background checking practices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia revealed more than 20 states received a D or F grade.

In its year-long investigation of millions of records of licensed and disciplined teachers, the USA Today Network found hundreds of cases in which educators were reprimanded or disciplined, yet still managed to get a teaching license and often a job at another school, simply by crossing state lines, reports CBS News correspondent David Begnaud.

More than three years ago, kindergarten teacher Reva Inabnett resigned from her job in Florida after she was accused of shoving, spanking and aggressively shaking a six-year-old. A battery charge against her was dropped after she completed a deferred prosecution program. A year later, she resurfaced at North Webster Junior High School in Louisiana, where she taught until just last week.

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Reva Inabnett. CBS News

Shelia Thornton said Inabnett worked with her daughter's dance team. The school district never told her about Inabnett's past.

"We trust our school system and I just don't like the idea of a child batterer taking care of my child," Thornton said.

"Our background system is almost set up as if teachers just stay in one state for their whole career and they clearly don't," said USA Today investigative reporter Steve Reilly. Reilly said Inabnett is just one example of teachers with checkered pasts slipping through cracks in the system.

"Not only are parents unable to find some of this information but education agencies in state and even school districts don't have access to a comprehensive list of teachers who are unable to teach because of sexual misconduct or physical misconduct of students," Reilly said.

The USA TODAY Network found the names of at least 9,000 educators disciplined are missing from a privately-run non-profit database called the NASDTEC Clearinghouse - the nation's only centralized system for tracking teacher misconduct. At least 1,400 of those teachers had their licenses permanently revoked, at least 200 for sexual or physical abuse.

"It's challenging because each of the states have their own rules and regulations that oversee the certification of educators in their state. Is it perfect? No. Do we work to make it perfect? Every single day," said NASDTEC Executive Director Phillip Rogers.

Last year, a Georgia teacher resigned after a string of allegations, including physical altercations with students. But he still got a teaching license in both North and South Carolina.

And in 2006, Dallas area middle school teacher Stanley Kendall was captured on NBC's "To Catch a Predator," allegedly soliciting a young boy for sex.

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Stanley Kendall. CBS News

"I honestly didn't think he was thirteen and I thought about driving away when I saw him at the door," Kendall said on the show.

He lost his job and Texas teaching license but told USA Today, "I let it happen because I didn't have money to fight it." Years later, Kendall returned to the classroom substituting in Indiana, until someone noticed him on a rerun of the NBC program and alerted officials.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey has spent years pushing for tougher federal regulations.

"The cases are too many too ignore," Sen. Toomey said on the Senate floor. "The various states have wildly varying standards for doing background checks for employees. There's no good reason why the children in a particular state should be more at risk than children in another state."

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Background Check report cards. CBS News/USA Today

Reva Inabnett resigned from her job in Louisiana last Monday after USA Today contacted the school district as part of its investigation. In a statement, she told "CBS This Morning": "I made an error in judgement in Florida... It was greatly exaggerated... I learned from my mistake... I sought a second chance and got it."

"How do you track teachers like this?" Begnaud asked.

"I guess right now, you don't and that's the question, how is this going on and nobody's doing anything about it?" Thornton said. "Seems like children are worth a little bit more than that to me."

An attorney for the school district in Louisiana told "CBS This Morning" the school did reach out to Inabnett's former district in Florida for a reference. It was told about the battery charge that had been dropped, but it was not aware of a separate ongoing state investigation. It hired Inabnett before the state concluded its own investigation, suspending her Florida license.

In the wake of the USA Today investigation, the database for tracking teacher misconduct will now require all states to audit the entries "to ensure their submissions are accurate and complete."