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Fla. Report Documents Sexual Misconduct of Teachers

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The number of teachers in Florida charged with sexual misconduct toward students shot up 127 percent last year, according to the state agency that disciplines teachers there.

The Education Practices Commission reported last week that 59 teachers were accused of sexually molesting or harassing a student in the 1993-94 school year, compared with 26 the previous year.

Most cases involved inappropriate touching or suggestive comments by male teachers toward adolescent female students. But some teachers were also charged with offering drugs, money, or higher grades in exchange for sex.

In one case, a teacher allegedly tried to pressure teenagers into prostitution, the commission said.

Of the 59 teachers accused, 27 had their licenses revoked, two were suspended from teaching, and two complaints were dismissed. Information on the remaining 28 cases was unavailable, said Kristi Asquith, a spokeswoman for the commission.

Sexual liaisons between students and teachers are not uncommon, according to the commission, which reports that one out of four complaints it receives involves sexual misconduct. Most other cases involve allegations of inappropriate discipline, drug-related crimes, fraud, and incompetence.

Ms. Asquith said last year's figures represent the sharpest annual increase in sexual-misconduct complaints since the commission was formed in 1980. But the highest number of reported cases occurred in 1988, when 70 teachers were accused of sexually inappropriate behavior.

The big rise in the number of complaints in 1994 may stem, in part, from increased awareness among students and teachers of what constitutes sexual misconduct, Ms. Asquith said.

Florida law requires school districts to report such violations to the commission, which has the power to punish teachers by suspending them or revoking their teaching certificates.

System Not Foolproof

Despite the worrisome statistics, a state teachers' union official said public school teachers are getting a bad rap for a relatively small number of incidents.

"It's not a huge, widespread problem," said Cathy Kelly, an assistant executive director of the Florida Teaching Profession-National Education Association. She noted that the accused teachers represent less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 120,000 teachers employed in the state.

Substantial background checks and the threat of dismissal already deter most potential offenders, she said.

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