Teacher sex scandals provoke outrage, but how common are they?
Lincoln High School in inner Southwest Portland has had five cases of teachers accused of sexual misconduct or inappropriate relationships with students in the last 10 years.
"One instance is one too may for these types of offenses, and there's really no excuse for them," said Teacher Standards and Practices Commission Deputy Director Trent Danowski, who manages the state-level response to these sorts of claims.
But authorities are not ready to make a judgment that these cases have become any more prevalent in the MeToo era, nor that Lincoln has a particularly high number.
"What I think we're seeing now is they are much more in the spotlight, perhaps, than they maybe were in previous times," Danowski said. "It just feels like it's happening more when maybe that's not necessarily the case."
Sexual abuse claims make up close to 9 percent of the investigations the TSPC conducts. Boundary violations are another 9.5 percent, which means a teacher is accused of crossing professional lines with students, either through violating confidentiality or becoming too personal or romantic.
More common are allegations of assault (18.3 percent) and other wrongdoing. The complaints can come in from districts, the community or cross-reported from the Department of Human Services or law enforcement.
Under new TSPC Executive Director Anthony Rosilez, the teacher licensing agency made progress toward its goal of a six-month response time, but investigations still take an average of 8.7 months. After that, teacher appeals can drag out cases for years.
That raises another question in many parents' minds: Even after they are reported and sanctioned, can educators just move out of the state to avoid consequences?
Rosilez says that is possible. Once a final determination occurs, TSPC puts the educator's name and discipline into a national database fed by Rosilez' counterparts in other states. TSPC checks the database for any teachers applying for licensure in Oregon and gets monthly reports on the teachers disciplined in other states who are known to have Oregon licensure.
As for what happens outside of Oregon, Rosilez says he can't be sure and that it is up to each individual school district to check the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification clearinghouse before hiring a teacher.
"It could well be that they are getting a position before we're able to put the final order — and whatever the sanction was — on the clearinghouse," Rosilez said. "So, I guess timing does become an issue."
Red flag: private communications
The most recent Portland-area revocation over sexual abuse claims was former Lincoln High School Constitution Team teacher George Ten Eyck.
In his case, and several other recent cases of sexual misconduct claims, it was enough to revoke the license based on inappropriate communications with students.
"The commission can take action up to and including revocation of a license, and we don't need a criminal conviction to do that," Danowski said.
This lower bar than the justice system doesn't mean the TSPC doesn't have to have proof, Danowski stressed. "Hypothetically, if we were to try to revoke a license (without evidence of wrongdoing), we would get slammed pretty hard in the appeals process."
This is why he says documentation is key to TSPC's process.
Danowski advises students to take any concerns to a trusted adult. He says parents who have concerns should contact the district first, as TSPC has no immediate authority to remove a teacher from contact with children.
A big red flag to watch for? Any communication — like a personal text to a cell phone — between a teacher and a student that a parent or other adult doesn't know about or that appears to blur professional boundaries.
"It's just flat-out dangerous and is not best practice to have nontransparent communications with a student," Danowski says, "especially in today's society where social media is so prevalent and text is so prevalent and so easy."
Even with guardrails like group chats in place, though, TSPC investigators don't expect to be out of work any time soon.
"Just like with any criminal action — sometimes, sometimes — it's not something you can predict until it happens," Danowski said. "A criminal is not a criminal until it happens."
Lincoln High School Principal Peyton Chapman says she watches teachers "like a hawk" if there are any red flags, and drops everything when student safety is at risk.
Chapman says she works hard to build trusting, professional relationships with her students so they raise these issues and others.
"Kids need to trust me because I'm there on this," she said. "I want predator teachers to know that they are not allowed to be predators in my school."
Ten Eyck flew under the radar
Lincoln High School Constitution Team teacher George Ten Eyck officially lost his license Aug. 9 following accusations of sexualized communications with two 17-year-old girls.
It is one of three cases of Portland Public Schools teachers losing their license over sex abuse allegations.
Longtime PPS teacher Norman Scott, formally lost his license June 1 as part of a guilty verdict that he sexually touched six Oregon City middle schoolers.
As first reported Aug. 20 by The Oregonian, Lincoln High School teacher and former Portland Association of Teachers President Jeff Miller also lost his license Oct. 25 for public indecency.
Teacher Julie O'Neill, who worked in the social studies department with Ten Eyck, said she was angry and shocked at the news.
"What most bothers me," O'Neill said, "is this idea that students or parents would think that we knew and were protecting our colleague over them. That just horrifies me."
Citing confidentiality rules barring her from speaking about any particular case, Lincoln High School Principal Peyton Chapman said that, in general, sexual predators are good at covering their tracks.
"Never underestimate the power of an abusive or predatory old person," Chapman said. "It's always these trusted adults. They're really good at not having any red flags."
Jason Trombley, a Lincoln Constitution Team coach who worked with Ten Eyck, said he was shocked at the allegations.
"I thought he was a great teacher to work with," Trombley said. "Personally, I always thought that he was a good person for me to work with in terms of keeping the mental health of our students front and center."
Ten Eyck suddenly resigned effective July 12, 2017, soon after two separate allegations came to the attention of Portland Public Schools officials, according to newly released public documents.
Ten Eyck, 33, denied the accusations to PPS investigators and could not be reached for comment through listed phone numbers and messages to his Gmail and LinkedIn accounts.
In the first complaint, Ten Eyck was accused of sending inappropriate messages to a 17-year-old Portland Community College student through the apps Tinder and SnapChat.
According to the TSPC report, Ten Eyck told Portland Public Schools officials that he assumed the student was 18, as that was a requirement of the dating app. The district declined further action.
A second, more serious, allegation surfaced only a couple weeks later.
The TSPC report said Chapman was contacted by a graduate who related that a former classmate said they had had a sexual relationship with Ten Eyck for several months while they were a student.
The person at the heart of that story, however, denied the allegations to the TSPC investigator last January.
They also declined to confirm or deny the allegations to the Portland Police Bureau, according to a summary of the police investigation.
The bureau's policy on these sorts of cases is to not continue with an investigation without the cooperation of the alleged victim.
Contacted by the Tribune, the alleged victim also declined comment for this story.
Chapman told state investigators she found Ten Eyck's denials suspicious. TSPC ultimately revoked his license on the basis of his documented communications with 17-year-olds that crossed professional lines.
PPS has been under scrutiny for how it responds to claims of sexual misconduct since The Oregonian published an in-depth investigative series a year ago on Mitch Whitehurst, a PPS teacher and coach accused of sexual harassment at various schools for years.
In response, the district conducted an audit of its handling of the Whitehurst allegations that revealed several large gaps in its ability to track, investigate and follow through on complaints.
The report included several recommendations for how the district should develop policies, procedures, training and a centralized tracking system for complaints.
Though unable to comment on specific cases, Portland Public Schools' spokesman Harry Esteve released the following statement after the Ten Eyck decision:
"Student safety is and always will be the highest and most urgent priority at Portland Public Schools. In instances involving a possible breach of or threat to student safety in any way, we work to move immediately at both the school and district levels," Esteve wrote.
The spokesman said staff quickly started an internal investigation, as well as to notify law enforcement, the Department of Human Services and the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.
"In this case, we're thankful for Lincoln Principal Peyton Chapman's immediate action. Principal Chapman, like all PPS educators and administrators, is trained regularly in student safety matters, including those involving sexual misconduct," he said.
The district is planning to soon hire a dedicated Title IX Coordinator, a position required by federal law to ensure equal access to education and freedom from sexual assault and harassment.