BOSTON (MyFoxBoston.com) - As many children get ready to go back to school, parents expect their kids to be in good hands in the classroom. But a FOX25 investigation found a troubling trend after reviewing years of teacher disciplinary records.
And, as Investigative Reporter Kerry Kavanaugh found, some involve serious criminal charges.
"You train your children to trust what's going on in the classroom and trust the teachers," said attorney and victim advocate, Wendy Murphy.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data, the state suspended or revoked the licenses of 142 teachers in the last six years.
More than half, or 83 teachers, lost their license for some sort of alleged sexual misconduct.
The complaints ranged from inappropriate touching, to sexting with students, to sexual assault.
The number one allegation was inappropriate relationships with students, with 29 cases. Twenty of those cases explicitly detailed sexual relationships.
They include allegations against former North Attleborough middle school guidance counselor.
Brian McBride lost his license following accusations he had sex with a 14-year-old female student at the middle school, inside his car and at this home.
He pleaded not guilty, but died before the case was adjudicated.
Former Holyoke teacher, Lisa Lavoie pleaded guilty to statutory rape of a 15-year-old student, who police say she ran away with.
"Just these numbers alone are pretty shocking, but my sense is because I know how schools work that this is only the tip of the iceberg,” Murphy said.
Murphy says very few of these stories become public knowledge.
Since 2006, 17 teachers were either charged or found guilty of possessing child pornography.
That includes former Newton teacher, David Ettlinger. A federal judge sentenced him a 45-year prison term for participating in an international child pornography ring.
Murphy, who's represented a number of student victims believes too often school districts are sweeping allegations under the rug.
"Is that a fair criticism?” Kavanaugh asked one of the state’s top educators.
"I would hope not. Our educators know very well, our superintendents know very well they have an obligation to report to us,” Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts Commissioner Elementary and Secondary Education, said. "We have zero tolerance policy for those bad actors and so when we hear about an incident or an accusation we investigate that very thoroughly and very aggressively."
"I think what you must do as a principle is first make sure everybody is clear on the do's and the don'ts; and that includes children,” said former Quincy High School principal Frank Santoro.
Santoro says as an administrator, his number one priority was to make sure teachers and students were safe in his school while he was in charge. But, he says during his 42-year career, a few teachers did betray his trust.
"Someone that you think would never be in that scenario, it is a shock,” Santoro said.
However, Santoro pointed out it’s a small slice of the 80,000 teachers licensed in Massachusetts.
"I've been blessed to have great staffs in the past with people who really care about children and go well beyond the 2:30 bell to make sure their children are provided for,” he said.
Murphy believes schools could prevent many of these cases by implementing mandatory reporting by both teachers and student and by doing a better job of screening teachers during the application process.
"Anyone who is saying, 'well it could be worse' is really saying, 'well a little bit of sexual assault is okay,'” Murphy said.
Right now in Massachusetts, if a student is 16, the legal age of consent, the accused teacher faces no criminal charges if the relationship was consensual.
We asked the Commissioner Chester about this. He says he would like to see a law that protects all students.
FOX25 reached out to the Massachusetts Teachers Association for comment on this story. We received the following statement:
"We deplore any instances of educator mistreatment of students. The union believes that even one confirmed case is too many and that every allegation must be dealt with quickly and with full adherence to the law."
Cox Media Group