MARION CO, SC (WBTW) — More than 100 educators were formally disciplined last year by the South Carolina State Board of Education, with offenses ranging from leaving their contracts early, to being charged with murdering a child.
News13 analyzed hundreds of pages of records to create a database listing which teachers were disciplined, which district they worked at, the accusations against them and what penalties were imposed.
The South Carolina State Board of Education has the power to deny, revoke or suspend an educator’s certificate. It can also issue public reprimands.
About half of the teachers disciplined last year faced accusations of breaking their contracts, while the other half were accused of unprofessional conduct.
The most common punishment was a one-year suspension of an educator’s certificate.
The board can take disciplinary actions for acts such as unprofessional conduct, drunkenness, cruelty, crime, immorality, any conduct involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, evident unfitness for the position for which the educator was employed in, or for the sale or possession of narcotics, according to a written statement from Derek Phillips, the public information director for the South Carolina Department of Education.
Last year’s cases included several educators who were accused of having sexual relationships with students, a teacher who did cocaine in front of his students and an athletic director who had sexual relations with another employee while on school grounds, according to state files.
The cases also include an order of summary suspension against Letecia Stauch, who has been charged with murdering her stepson, 11-year-old Gannon.
Stauch was arrested March 2 in Myrtle Beach, and the board of education took action against her educator certificate on March 11.
Gannon’s body was found in Pace, Florida on March 18. Stauch had reported him as missing in January in Colorado.
Stauch had last worked in South Carolina in 2018 and had previously worked for Horry County Schools until 2015.
“The SCDE has reason to believe that, due to the serious nature of this allegation of misconduct, Ms. Stauch may pose a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of students who may be under her instruction, and that emergency action is required,” the state board’s ruling reads.
The disciplinary actions include two cases in Florence 1 Schools. Both were for unprofessional conduct — one teacher had their certificate suspended for one year because they failed to report to work, and the other received a consent order of public reprimand for inappropriate physical contact with a student.
One educator in Darlington County School received an order of summary suspension — meaning that a certificate is suspended until a criminal case is resolved — after being arrested for criminal solicitation of a minor, disseminating harmful material to minors and sexual battery.
There were no cases in Horry County Schools.
Marion County School District had the most disciplinary actions within Pee Dee and Grand Strand schools, with four teachers who each had their certificates suspended for one year due to breach of contracts.
While Phillips said there’s no statutory definition for “unprofessional conduct,” it can include an educator’s failure to fulfill their contract. Districts can choose whether to report breach of contracts to the state board of education for punitive action. It is also up to a school district whether or not it releases an educator from their contract.
A breach of contract case is punishable by up to a one-year suspension of an educator’s certificate.
For unprofessional conduct cases, the department will receive notice of potential grounds for the complaint. That notice can include reporting letters from a district, a written statement from an education organization in another state, news reports, written complaints or data from the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification. The majority, Phillips said, come from district reporting letters.
The state sees the cases after a school district’s governing body votes to send it to them.
When an educator is accused of unprofessional conduct, an investigator with the Office of General Counsel will lead an investigation into the claim. The investigator then hands over a report to a certification review committee, which then votes on whether or not to pursue action against the educator’s certificate, and recommends which action should be pursued. If the committee recommends an action, the state sends the educator a written notice about the pending action and informs them that they have the right to a hearing.
If an educator chooses to have a hearing, then one is scheduled and evidence is presented before a state-appointed hearing office. If there isn’t a hearing, then a consent order is reached between the educator and the state, and is then voted on by the state board of education.
If there is a due process hearing, the hearing officer makes a report and a recommendation for which action should be taken. The state can decide if it wants to follow that recommendation, or take a different one.
If there isn’t a hearing or an alternative resolution — like a consent order — then the case automatically goes to the state board, which decides which action will be taken and how long an educator’s certificate might be suspended for.
Teachers sign contracts with districts that include a specified number of days they’ll work, according to Deborah Wimberly, a spokeswoman for the Marion County School District. Wimberly said that teachers who break that contract before it’s fulfilled are not officially released unless they fall under one of the district’s exemptions, which include military service, if a spouse gets a job in another area, if the educator gets a promotion or if the teacher has to leave for other “reasonable explanations.”
If not, then it’s considered a breach of contract.
“Any teacher that falls in that situation, we refer to the state,” Wimberly said.
She said it’s district policy to refer all breach of contract cases to the state so that the district does not show partiality.
Wimberly said it’s hard to find a replacement for a teacher who lives in the middle of a school year, especially in a rural community like Marion. The departure also has an impact on the teacher’s students.
“Their education has been completely disrupted,” she said. “If their teacher leaves, then the continuity and the expertise of that teacher has left with them, and the district is put in a situation of recruiting or putting someone in the classroom to maintain the educational activity, and it’s difficult when it’s in the middle of the year.”
A call for comment to the South Carolina Education Association was not returned.