PHOENIX — A former Carl Hayden High School teacher had his certification suspended Monday by state authorities, several months after Phoenix police arrested him for alleged sexual misconduct with a student.
Stephen Escudero, 41, now won't be able to teach in Arizona's classrooms until the State Board of Education finishes adjudicating his case. A special committee will likely review the allegations against Escudero before the board makes a final vote on the status of his certification.
Public records show Escudero was indicted in December 2020 for multiple charges of alleged sexual misconduct involving an underage student that occurred in 2017. His court case is still pending and has a trial date set for November.
Nine months after his arrest, Escudero's case was brought before the Board of Education for temporary disciplinary action. So during the interim, his certification remained valid throughout Arizona.
The adjudication of Escudero's case highlights the lengthy, bureaucratic process that often entails complaints brought against Arizona's certified teachers.
The board aims to resolve cases within six months but some can drag on much longer due to limited resources and an expanding workload.
Board officials claim their case numbers have been growing in recent years, yet it doesn't have the staffing to keep up with demand.
Earlier this month, the board submitted a budget request to the Governor's Office for three assistant attorney general positions that could help resolve complaints faster.
SBE Executive Director Alicia Williams said it's the first request for new staffing she's made during her tenure as the agency's leader, but she believes the board's staff is becoming overwhelmed by their current caseloads.
If the board were to get a new complaint about a teacher accused of sexual misconduct, Williams said she wouldn't be able to schedule it for a committee hearing until June 2022 at the earliest.
"We have 80 cases open," Williams said during a board meeting last month. "The assistant attorney generals are at max capacity at about 40 cases each."
Board records show the number of disciplinary cases adjudicated between 2019 and 2020 nearly doubled and the amount of cases the board reviewed involving sexual misconduct grew from 36 to 79.
"At the recommendation of the Office of the Auditor General, (SBE) seeks to investigate and adjudicate complaints within 180 days of receipt. SBE is not meeting this goal," board documents state.
In some instances, more than a year can pass before the board revokes the certification of a teacher who's committed crimes.
Amanda Wernett, a former teacher of the Prescott Unified School District, had her credentials revoked last month for criminal offenses committed years earlier.
Board records show Wernett was charged in 2018 for welfare fraud. More charges were filed in January 2020 for allegations of assault, criminal damage, and disorderly conduct.
Wernett pleaded guilty and was sentenced in July 2020 to a term of probation. Her case was not adjudicated by the board until August 2021.
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