Recent investigations at three Montana schools have revealed suspected inappropriate teacher-student relationships. The state Board of Education oversees teacher certification and can consider the suspension or revocation of teacher certificates.
"A student-teacher relationship, whether they've reached the age of legal consent or not, is still a problem," said Pete Donovan, Board of Public Education Executive Director.
Assistant Attorney General Robert Stutz is contacted for cases of sexual assault, sexual intercourse without consent, indecent exposure, deviant sexual conduct offenses including prostitution or endangering the welfare of children.
Stutz reviews the case including information collected by the Office of Public Instruction and the school district where the teacher was employed.
If the board proceeds with the investigation, a hearing will be scheduled before the board and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to consider disciplinary action.
"In addition to the hearing before the board, the Superintendent of Public Instruction also has the authority to suspend a teacher's license immediately if there is a concern about public health and safety," Stutz said.
The teacher can bring witnesses for defense and have an attorney represent them at the hearing. Following the hearing, the board can choose to issue a letter of reprimand or suspend or revoke the teacher's certificate.
"That's why we rely on what's in the statute and in the board's rule," Donovan said.
An accused teacher can also choose to voluntarily forfeit their teaching certificate.
If the board chooses to discipline a teacher or the teacher forfeits their license voluntarily, the information is submitted to a national database of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) and other schools can access the information should the teacher apply at another district.
"It's very unfortunate when these things do happen but I think it's important to remember it's such a tiny percentage of educators that get involved in these problems but when it does happen, it really has a profound impact on so many people," Donovan said.
According to the Administrative Rules of Montana which govern educators:
10.57.601A DEFINITION OF "IMMORAL CONDUCT"
(1) "Immoral conduct" related to the teaching profession, under 20-4-110(1)(f), MCA, includes, but is not limited to:
(a) sexual contact, as defined in 45-2-101, MCA, or sexual intercourse as defined in 45-2-101, MCA, involving a minor or a person the applicant or licensee knows, reasonably should know, or should have known is a student at a public or private elementary or secondary school;
(b) conduct, whether resulting in the filing of criminal charges or not, which would constitute an offense under any of the following statutes of this state:
(i) 45-5-502, MCA, (sexual assault);
(ii) 45-5-503, MCA, (sexual intercourse without consent);
(iii) 45-5-504, MCA, (indecent exposure);
(iv) 45-5-505, MCA, (deviate sexual conduct), if the conduct either was non-consensual or involved a minor or a person the applicant or licensee knows, reasonably should know, or should have known is a student at a public or private elementary or secondary school;