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State says abusers not necessarily unfit as teachers, complicating efforts to dismiss Portland Public Schools teacher.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Former PPS special-education teacher Andrew Oshea spent 33 workdays in jail. PPS paid him for nearly two years while he wasn't working. Then PPS paid him $19,326 to resign Dec. 22.The two women who sought restraining orders against Portland Public Schools teacher Andrew Oshea made similar claims.

"While I was sleeping, he came up and ripped me out of bed by my hair and threw me on the ground," one woman wrote in court documents in July 2015. "He then threw beer on me and spit on me."

Eight months later, in March 2016, a second woman detailed additional abuse in her request for a restraining order: "He ripped my clothes, burned my clothes, physically assaults me, hits me on my head, spits on me, pulls my bangs and tells me I am stupid."

A week later, the second woman withdrew her complaint, writing in court papers that she no longer felt threatened.

"I don't want him to lose his job because of me, or this order," she added.

She needn't have worried.

Portland Public Schools put 47-year-old Oshea on administrative leave in November 2015 after witnesses said he used unnecessary and excessive physical force against a special-education student, whom Oshea pinned to the ground by the head. But PPS continued to pay Oshea his $75,725 annual salary plus benefits for close to two years, even as he toggled in and out of jail on charges of violating the 2015 restraining order, drunk driving and domestic-violence assault. Oshea resigned last month, collecting a final payment of $19,326 on the promise he wouldn't sue the district.

Among the questions raised by the saga of Oshea is why the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, which licenses teachers, declined to discipline Oshea for any of his conduct inside or outside the classroom.

In August, when the Portland Tribune first wrote about Oshea's criminal record, a representative of the licensing commission wrote in an email that it was still investigating Oshea. In fact, the commission had voted two months earlier, on June 21, 2017, not to impose any sanction against Oshea.

PPS records newly turned over to the Tribune give new context to that decision and highlight how Oregon disregards convictions for domestic violence when it comes to licensing teachers.

Courts require 'nexus'

Oregon courts have ruled repeatedly, including as recently as 2015, that a teacher's alleged misconduct must have a clear "nexus" with his or her professional responsibilities. That means it's harder but not impossible to discipline teachers for off-duty conduct.

In Eicks vs. Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that TSPC erred when it declined to renew Robyn Eicks' counseling license.

A foster mom to a troubled teen, Eicks had nowhere to take the boy when he got sick and couldn't go to school. So she parked her car outside her workplace and left the boy there with a sleeping bag and Game Boy. She repeated it the next day. But after fellow teachers reported her, TSPC charged her with "gross unfitness" and "gross neglect of duty."

Whether there's a nexus between violence at home and duties at school is a matter of debate in Oregon.

Chris Huffine, a licensed psychologist in Portland who treats batterers, says abusers victimize their partners, but that doesn't make them unfit to teach.

That view is shared by the state licensing agency.

Alan Contreras, a commissioner with TSPC who chairs the professional practices subcommittee, says domestic violence doesn't have a demonstrable "nexus" with a teacher's work, unless it involves children.

"A domestic violence situation, it's bad," Contreras said. "But does it relate to a person's professional capacity? I don't think it does. I don't think it says anything about a person's ability to perform the duties of a teacher."

PPS slow to share evidence

More than 300 pages of email correspondence among PPS officials include messages to the state licensing commission, and those records suggest PPS was slow when it came to sharing documents on Oshea with state officials.

On March 24, 2017, more than a year after PPS put Oshea on leave, an investigator with the state commission wrote to a PPS paralegal to complain that PPS had turned over an incomplete case file.

On May 24, 2017, the investigator contacted an assistant to then-PPS interim general counsel Stephanie Harper.

At that point, Oshea had been on paid leave for 18 months, and PPS hadn't made a decision about his case. The investigator, Burney Krauger, wanted to know why, and he had a deadline. He had a report due to the state licensing commission.

Krauger "has to submit his report to the board tomorrow and they are going to want to know the status," Maureen Retherford, the assistant, wrote. "Is (Oshea) still on paid admin leave? If he is, why has it been 18 months?"

The disclosed records don't show a response.

Four weeks later, the licensing commission declined to discipline Oshea.

TSPC's decision not to sanction Oshea in any way means it's not possible to say what elements of Oshea's conduct TSPC examined or how it came to its conclusion. Documents from cases that don't result in punishment are typically not a matter of public record under Oregon law. A lawyer with the Oregon Department of Justice who works with the licensing commission, Raul Ramirez, declined to comment on the case.

Call for change

Gov. Kate Brown, who has said she has been a victim of domestic violence, wants the commission to push for more authority as it investigates teachers accused of harming partners. Right now, only certain crimes, including child abuse, many sex crimes and offenses related to illegal drugs, automatically disqualify a person from being an Oregon teacher.

"Domestic violence is totally and completely unacceptable in all professions, but it's particularly unacceptable in our educator work force," said Brown in a statement from her office. "The Teacher Standards and Practices Commission's mission is to establish, uphold and enforce professional standards of excellence in the teaching profession. Individual cases can and should spark the commission to re-examine their standards that pertain to conduct befitting the teaching profession. The commission should review and recommend policy related to its statutory authority so that there are clear consequences for perpetrators of domestic violence."

Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, went further, saying a conviction for domestic violence should automatically trigger the loss of an Oregon teaching license.

"I think that shows a real concern for someone's ability to provide a safe and protective environment in our classrooms," said Buehler, Brown's likely Republican opponent in the 2018 election.

Trent Danowski, deputy director of the licensing commission, said the matter is out of the agency's hands because of statutory limitations and court rulings. "The TSPC is limited in its ability to respond to domestic violence incidents occurring outside of a school setting," he wrote in an email. "The TSPC would welcome future conversations with the governor's office and representatives of the Oregon State Legislature on this topic."

Unfit to teach?

Under the terms of a separation agreement signed Dec. 22, Oshea will no longer work for PPS. The two parties "agree to disagree" over whether Oshea's conduct made him unfit to teach.

As part of the deal, the school district will give Oshea's future employers "neutral" references, but only if Oshea seeks jobs that have nothing to do with children.

When the year ended, however, Oshea still had his Oregon teaching license.

Find out more

To read the first part of this series, see bit.ly/2DmlJ0R.


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