A 12 News review of Arizona teachers’ disciplinary records show that there are at least 15 teachers who were disciplined in other states over the past five years who currently hold valid teaching certificates in Arizona.
Vanessa Cardoso, 29, managed to get a teaching certificate in Arizona two months before she was charged with 10 felonies in Oregon, for allegedly having sex with a student.
Cardoso pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a plea bargain. She was banned from teaching in Oregon, but she can still teach in Arizona.
Arizona Gets a “B”
A nationwide investigation by USA Today and Tegna Media shows that teachers with disciplinary records may be moving to other states to avoid background and disciplinary checks in order to get credentialed.
The investigation shows that almost half of the states failed to report disciplinary information about educators to other states.
Arizona received a “B” for efforts to track disciplined teachers, ranking 10th overall in the nation, but there are still holes in the system that are letting bad teachers back in the classroom.
The state lost points for not reporting disciplinary actions to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC), which allows other states to track the disciplinary actions taken against teachers nationwide.
Last December, a review by the Arizona Department of Education found that of the 230 cases of teacher misconduct since 2010, more than a third -- 79 -- were never entered into state or national databases. Over the last 20 years, 22 percent of educators who were disciplined were not listed in the national NASDTEC database.
As of January, the state had a backlog of 332 teacher investigations, 75 percent of them from the last two years, Board of Education Executive Director Karol Schmidt told the board in January.
Arizona also got dinged on its report card for not publicly providing disciplinary records of educators online.
‘Teachers should have been caught’
“There are teachers that should have been caught that aren't caught,” said Susan Segal, an attorney at Gust Rosenfeld, who has three decades of experience at the state and local levels dealing with teacher discipline. "There are glitches in the system."
There are two key pieces to the disciplinary system in Arizona.
The Department of Education receives applications for teaching certificates. Applicants must provide their fingerprints and report whether they’ve ever been arrested or received any reprimand or disciplinary action involving a professional certification or license.
Applicants who check “yes” to the arrest or discipline questions are forwarded to the Arizona Board of Education’s investigations unit. The results of the investigation and a recommendation are provided to the board by the chief investigator.
Department of Education Spokesman Charles Tack said that if the investigators do find something they determine if it needs to be heard by the state Board of Education.
“It works the same way when there’s a disciplinary process that takes place after an investigation into a teacher’s conduct,” Tack said. “They are also responsible for reporting that information to a national database that states participate in to share information about disciplinary actions.”
Segal said a lack of resources resulted in some discipline investigations being put on the backburner if the case didn’t seem serious enough.
“The problem is that there has been a backlog in the Arizona State Board of Education in trying to handle all of these allegations of unprofessional conduct,” Segal said.
‘Not a perfect system’
To put this in perspective, the number of disciplined teachers is relatively small. For the 2015 fiscal year 165,591 educators were certified.
But gaps in the national and state databases mean that bad teachers can make their way into Arizona because of other states' failure to report disciplinary records.
In the USA Today/Tegna investigation, Oregon was cited for not reporting large numbers of educators with serious misconduct to other states. But it’s not the only state letting these teachers slip through the cracks.
“Because of human beings in state agencies, sometimes the responsibility of submitting those names falls through the cracks,” said NASDTEC Executive Director Phillip Rogers. "It’s not a perfect system.”
States can take months to report teachers to NASDTEC, sometimes even forgetting to submit names to the national database at all.
Of the states investigated, only four were found to effectively report teacher misconduct to other states.
"I can tell you that every state uses it," Rogers said. "It’s meant to be a tool so when that state realizes that educator from out of state who’s applying for a certificate is in the NASDTEC clearinghouse, it’s meant to initiate conversation between those two states."
But Segal said that teachers applying for jobs in Arizona aren’t always checked against the NASDTEC database.
“I don’t see anybody consulting it,” said Segal, who has been a legal adviser to several Valley school districts.
“What the school districts generally do is they go to the fingerprint check and they go to the references,” Segal said. “Those are the primary sources of references.”
The USA Today/Tegna investigation provided 12 News with a database of teachers disciplined in other states who might be teaching in Arizona.
The Online Arizona Certification Information System (OACIS) flagged several teachers who were disciplined in other states and hold valid teaching certificates. Not all of them are currently teaching in Arizona, but some are.
We contacted several Arizona school districts that have hired teachers who were flagged in the database.
Florence Unified School District was the only one to respond. A spokesman said that all employees go through an FBI background check.
"Due to this being a personnel issue, we cannot discuss specific people or incidents," said Richard Franco, the district’s director of public relations. "Every teacher in our district is certified by the state of Arizona and any certification questions should be directed to the Arizona Department of Education."
Vanessa Cardoso, the former Oregon teacher who got a teaching certificate in Arizona, is still listed as holding a valid certificate in the Department of Education database.
Court records in Oregon show the sexual abuse charges were dropped, but Carodso, who was working in Reedsport, Ore., was convicted of two counts of harassment in 2013 for subjecting a student, who was a minor, to offensive sexual contact.
According to the Oregon Department of Education’s online disciplinary records, Cardoso married the student, Andrew Hernandez Cardoso, now 22, in 2011 and has two children with him.
Cardoso’s Oregon teaching license was revoked in 2015.
12 News went to the last reported address for Cardoso, in Chandler. There was no answer. Cardoso’s current whereabouts are unknown.
In response to a public records request to the Arizona Department of Education, 12 News learned that Cardoso was being investigated by the Arizona Board of Education as of Dec. 2015.
In response to a separate public records request, the board’s executive director, Karol Schmidt, said the investigation records are confidential.
How parents can track teacher discipline
It’s difficult to get information on a teacher’s disciplinary history, in particular if the teacher was disciplined out of state.
Rosenfeld would like to see a national teacher discipline database.
"Teachers are of such a level of a profession, like a doctor and like a lawyer, you should be able to go to the database to find out if there are complaints against them," Rosenfeld said.
Parents can check to see if their child’s teacher has a valid certificate or a disciplinary record through the Arizona Department of Education’s online database, known as OACIS.
The state database will flag a teacher who has any disciplinary history on file.
But the database doesn’t provide any information on the discipline or which state imposed it.
The national NASDTEC database would provide this information, but parents do not have access to it.
The database does refer users to the state Board of Education, which handles teacher discipline. But finding the actual discipline involves searching the online record of Board of Education meetings.
"You have to be able to drill down and investigate," said Segal. "I don't think the parents I know -- and I'm a parent -- would have the time to do all of that."
The record lists the board’s action on teacher discipline, but finding the relevant meeting date is a “hunt-and-peck” exercise.