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Colo. 'Morality Code' Blasted

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Denver--Colorado's largest teachers' organization is unhappy about an unexpected change in the "morality clause" of state rules governing the revocation of teaching certificates.

Despite opposition from the 25,000-member Colorado Education Association (cea), the state board of education voted last month to change the grounds for revocation from "overt sexual misconduct in the presence of a student" to "immoral conduct which affects the health, safety, or welfare of children."

"That is far too vague," said the state association's president, Gordon Heaton. "It will permit the filing of very frivolous charges. If somebody wants to go after a teacher, this makes it easier to do so.''

Wesley Apker, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, supported the change. "We believe the old language was too limiting," Mr. Apker said. "There were other situations that needed to be provided for, and local school districts need the flexibility to define their own moral standards."

"They've gone from the specific to the general," Mr. Heaton noted. As a result, he said, officials in some school districts may be tempted to "pry into the private lives of teachers."

According to Melvin Spurlin, state supervisor of teacher education and certification, 12 complaints have been filed under the morality clause, which was adopted by the board of education only a year ago. After investigations by state officials and a review by the state commissioner of education, the state board revoked six teaching certificates on grounds of immoral con-duct, Mr. Spurlin said.

"After a year's experience, we went back to the board, and said, 'Here are some problems, some changes we think you should consider,"' Mr. Spurlin explained. He said there had been at least one case in which a teacher molested a child who was not a student.

The number of Colorado teachers cited for the "sexual abuse of children" has increased recently, Mr. Spurlin said. He attributed the increase to efforts by state education officials to alert local school districts to the problem and to assure them of state support. "In the past, many of these situations never came to our attention," Mr. Spurlin said. "The offending teacher would be removed from the classroom and dismissed from the district, but would remain certified and so could get a position in another school district. We had one case like that this year."

In adopting the morality clause a year ago, the state board had followed the recommendations of a committee representative of major statewide education groups--parents, teachers, administrators, and school-board members.

When the committee was reconvened shortly before the state board's recent vote, the change in wording for the morality clause, which had been drafted by state department of education staff members, was supported by administrators and opposed by teachers. Parents and school-board groups took no position on the issue.

Mr. Heaton said the cea, unhappy about both the change and the way in which it came about, was planning no further action. Instead, he said, his organization would monitor the state board's activities more closely and "work harder to improve relationships with the state department of education."

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