HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) – In some cases, it’s up to the honor system if a school finds out a teacher is accused of committing a crime.
At the state level, where the South Carolina State Board of Education can decide to suspend an educator’s teaching certificate following an arrest, the board relies on districts, other states, individual complaints and media reports to learn about criminal charges.
At least eight teachers faced discipline from the board following criminal charges last year. Of those, five were given orders of summary suspension, where a certificate is yanked until a charge is resolved. One voluntarily surrendered their license, and another had their license revoked.
Those crimes varied from felony charges of sexual conduct, criminal solicitation of a minor, sexual battery, abusing vulnerable adults and for cruelty to children. Of those eight, two were not working for a South Carolina school district at the time of their arrests, but had active teaching licenses for the state.
One of those teachers is Letecia Stauch, who is on trial after being charged with the murder of her stepson, Gannon.
Other teachers were disciplined for actions like showing up to work intoxicated, possessing illegal substances, taking illegal drugs while at school and for transporting students while under the influence of an illegal substance.
The majority of teachers disciplined by the state receive a one-year suspension for breaking their contracts with the districts they teach for.
An Horry County Schools teacher was arrested last month and charged with felony driving under the influence following a deadly two-car crash on Carolina Forest Boulevard.
Michael Norman Oerther, a 52-year-old math teacher at Ocean Bay Middle School, was placed on administrative leave following his arrest. The state board suspended his educator certificate last week after concluding that he “may pose a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of students,” according to documents.
He was arrested for DUI in 2005, 2009 and 2011, and had previously been charged with driving under a suspended license, driving without a license and the use of a vehicle without permission.
Under Horry County Schools policy, employees are required to notify their supervisor if they’ve been arrested. A decision on disciplinary action is delegated to the superintendent.
Under the Standards of Conduct for South Carolina, the state board can deny, revoke, suspend a certificate or issue a public reprimand for:
- Willful neglect of duty
- Willful violation of the rules and regulation of the South Carolina State Board of Education
- Unprofessional conduct
- Crime against state or federal law
- Any conduct involving moral turpitude
- Evident unfitness for the position for which employed
- Testing security violation
- Sale or possession of narcotics
- Obtaining or attempting to obtain a certificate by fraudulent means or through misrepresentation of material facts
- Failure to comply with the provisions of a contract without the written consent of the local school board
- Failure to comply with a court order for child support
- Failure for a second time to successfully complete the formal evaluation process as an annual contract teacher
The state board’s chair is able to call for emergency action to immediately suspend a teacher’s certificate. After the chair files a petition that outlines the emergency, the majority of the board must vote for the suspension.
Once a teacher has been referred to the board for disciplinary action, the board notifies them of their right to a hearing. If a teacher doesn’t respond, it’s considered waiving their right to a hearing. If they request one, it will be conducted.
The state can then permanently revoke a license, revoke it with the ability to reapply after three years, put it on a timed suspension, issue a public reprimand or make a suspension dependent on conditions like undergoing drug or alcohol testing, or receiving counseling, before it can be returned.
The state has previously taken action on certificates for:
- Pursuing a personal, inappropriate relationship with a student
- Touching a student inappropriately
- Engaging in a physical altercation with a student
- Supplying alcohol or drugs to a student
- Using a school computer to view or download pornography
- Sending or receiving prurient e-mails
- Violating test security
- Violating state or federal laws involving drugs or alcohol or other illegal behavior
- Embezzling public funds
- Committing breach of trust
- Breaching a teaching contract
Teachers are also required to be fingerprinted to check for prior criminal activity before they are given a certificate.
The South Carolina Department of Education Certification Review Committee meets to decide if a candidate will be cleared for a certificate. If the prospective teacher can’t be cleared, they’re then referred to the South Carolina State Board of Education. Unless there’s a felony conviction on the candidate’s record, the board can delegate a committee the ability to grant or deny the certificate. The candidate is able to give a three-minute statement, or can submit documents, to the committee.
Applicants who have attempted to be certified in South Carolina have been denied due to “serious criminal records” and for not fully disclosing previous criminal convictions.
Use the database below to search for teacher disciplinary actions from 2020: