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Shattered Trust: How problem educators slip through the cracks and into classrooms

Posted: 6:00 AM, Feb 13, 2017
Updated: 2017-02-14 11:34:30-05

Our exclusive three-month On Your Side Investigation uncovered educators banned from obtaining an Ohio education license still working inside schools.

 

Innocence Lost

Ronald Tremp said he was 14 years old when he was abused by his former neighbor, Harold "Jerry" Mash. 

“He’d come over and we’d chit chat . . .  and then he would get personal with me,” he said.

Tremp said Mash molested him twice, and then he told his mom. 

He said he continues to deal with the effects of the abuse to this day. 

“My life was never the same,” said Tremp.  

Passing the Trash

It’s not just the abuse he endured that continues to haunt Tremp. 

It’s also how the system failed to stop Mash from abusing more children. 

Mash was convicted of abusing another boy in 1976, two years before Tremp said he was abused. 

Tremp and his family had no idea. The conviction was handled in juvenile court, even though Mash was in his early thirties. 

It’s even more troubling because Mash was a teacher. 

He taught at Rossford High School in Rossford, Ohio and at two Toledo High Schools. 

However, his conviction had no effect on his ability to work inside a school. 

His Ohio teaching license remained valid until it expired in 1991. 

How Ohio Handles Problem Educators

Fast forward to today; Ohio has dramatically changed how it protects students.

Criminal conviction triggers a notification to the Ohio Department of Education. 

School districts are required to tell ODE when a licensed educator is fired or resigns due to allegations involving serious misconduct. 

After ODE investigates the reports, educators can and often do lose their licenses.

Our investigative team found 217 educators’ licenses were permanently denied or revoked in the last two years

View a full list of those educators here.

However, in spite of those efforts, On Your Side Investigators found some of those unlicensed educators still working with students. 

Still In School

The Ohio Department of Education permanently denied Varick Fuller a state license in 2015. 

Among the reasons for the department’s decision, Fuller admitted to sending sexually explicit texts to a teenage girl while he was employed at Cleveland Central Catholic High School during a state hearing.

Those texts were far from Fuller’s first offense. 

ODE sent Fuller a “Letter of Admonishment” for making inappropriate comments to students while working for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District in 2010. 

So where did On Your Side Investigators find Fuller?  

The Cleveland man was working as a “Student Success Coach” at Invictus High School, a charter school. 

The job did not require a state license. 

When On Your Side Investigator Sarah Buduson asked Fuller how he was hired, Fuller said he disclosed his history on his application. 

He also vehemently denied he made inappropriate comments to a student at Cleveland Central Catholic High School. 

Invictus High School marketing coordinator Mike Robinson declined On Your Side Investigators’ request for an on-camera interview. Robinson also refused to answer specific questions about how Fuller was hired, but he did place the blame on a private company the school hired to conduct background checks on employees.

Robinson also said the school fired Fuller a few hours after we informed them about his background. He also said school officials asked their students if Fuller made any inappropriate comments, but none came forward.

Trouble in Tennessee

The Ohio Department of Education permanently revoked Jeffrey Poulton’s teaching license in 2015 for having a “romantic relationship” with a student while employed at North Folk Schools in Licking County and engaging in a “romantic relationship” with a fellow teacher during school hours while employed at a school in Columbus. 

The department’s decision did not keep Poulton out of the classroom. 

We found he turned up in Tennessee and was soon in trouble again.  

Poulton resigned from Sycamore High School in Pleasant View, a Nashville suburb, after he was accused of sending inappropriate Snapchats to a student.

Behind Bars

Daniel Burris, 45, is currently facing eight felony charges in Franklin County, including rape, gross sexual imposition, and unlawful sexual conduct with after he was accused of sexually abusing young boys he tutored at their homes.

Burris was hired as a tutor, even though Ohio suspended his teaching license for five years after he was accused of sending texts to students without their parents’ permission when working at Westerville City Schools in 2014. 

ODE Response

So how do educators deemed unworthy of a state license end up in classrooms?

ODE spokeswoman Brittany Halpin declined our request for an on-camera interview.

In an e-mail, Halpin said ODE “has mandatory reporting requirements, like teacher, social workers, etc.” 

However, Halpin also repeatedly refused to answer specific questions about state policies and procedures, including when, how and how often ODE refers incidents involving serious educator misconduct to law enforcement, citing a state code stating “all information obtained during an investigation is confidential and is not a public record.” 

We did uncover one reason it’s easy for unlicensed educators to get re-hired. 

No matter how immoral the educator’s misconduct may be, ODE decisions on that misconduct will not turn up on a background check because ODE is not a law enforcement agency.

ODE does make all of its decisions available in an online database.

However, we found the state often redacts the details related to the accusations against the educator.

A Frightening Revelation

For years, Tremp put what happened with Mash out of his mind.

Then, the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State hit the headlines. 

Tremp and his wife, Julie, began to wonder what happened to Mash. 

An online search revealed something they found revolting.

Mash was not only still working at a school; he had worked his way into an administrative position within Chicago’s public school system. 

“My heart just sunk,” Tremp said. “All we could think about is those kids,” he said. 

The couple began a crusade to expose Mash. 

“I had to get him. I mean, we had to get him,” Julie Tremp said. 

For months, they gathered records related to his 1976 conviction and tracked down two other men who said they were abused by Mash. 

They filed a lawsuit with one of those alleged victims, but it was dismissed due to the statute of limitations.

They also teamed up with a reporter at the Chicago Tribune and an advocacy group for sexual abuse victims. 

Finally, with the group’s help, they held a press conference revealing Mash’s past.  

Mash was quickly removed from working with students. 

While Tremp is thrilled Mash is no longer near vulnerable students, he remains frustrated. 

He applauds the system Ohio now has in place, but believes the state should have done more to protect students all those years ago.

“If they would have done their job like they were supposed to, a lot of these kids, including myself, would not be in this situation right now,” he said.

Tremp said he decided to share his story to encourage other abuse victims to press charges, something he never did. 

At the time, he was too frightened and too embarrassed. 

“I want people to understand it is not your fault and give them the courage to file charges and, hopefully, put these monsters in jail,” he said.