Teacher transparency: Does Michigan fall short?

Posted at 10:03 PM, May 18, 2016

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Have you ever tried to learn anything about your child’s teacher?

If so, you probably have found it’s not easy in Michigan.  When you go to the Department of Education’s website, the only information you can easily find is whether a teacher’s certificate is valid, and when it was last renewed.

If it’s not valid, you will be instructed to call the Department of Education’s Professional Preparation Services. They will tell a parent if a teacher’s certificate is suspended or revoked, and the offense that prompted the action.

But if a teacher commits an offense that is not deemed an “actionable offense”, the Department of Education will not share with a parent that anything ever occurred. All a parent will see on the website is that a teacher’s certificate is still valid.

That’s the case with a former teacher in the Lansing School District named Luther Duvall.

A federal lawsuit is pending against the Lansing School District and Duvall.  It alleges that Duvall, a tenured Special Education teacher, threw a 12-year-old student with autism on the floor, breaking a bookshelf and leaving the student with a black eye and concussion.

FOX 17 contacted the Lansing School District, which confirmed Duvall is no longer working in the district.

However, when you look him up on the Department of Education’s website, all you’ll see is that his teaching certificate is still valid.

Compare Michigan’s practices to the Ohio Department of Education, which is much more transparent.

“All of our disciplinary docs are public records in Ohio.  So those disciplinary docs are posted on the website,” explained Lori Kelly, the Director for the Office of Professional Conduct at Ohio’s Department of Education.  “On our website, we have a disciplinary search engine where you can search by a person's name, and you can also search by a district and it will come up and list the educator who has been disciplined, what the discipline is, and then there's usually a little blurb for the basis for the discipline.”

According to Leah Breen, with the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan’s practice probably won’t be changing anytime soon.  She advises concerned parents to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to track down public records on a teacher, although she admits it's not a speedy process.

“I think people's privacy is important and I think about other professions.  I don't think we require every lawyer’s criminal history to be reported in a public site, or every physician," she said.  "I'd want to afford our teachers the same level of privacy and professionalism as we do in other professions, so I think I’d want to look at that carefully before we made decisions.”  I

It’s important to note, FOX 17 reached out to several principals and superintendents in west Michigan to comment on this practice, but none were willing to speak about the topic on camera.