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Teacher accused of sexual misconduct moves from state to state
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    MOUNT VERNON — Hector Ramirez Almenas seemed like a perfect hire for Montgomery County High School.
    He came with glowing recommendations and years of experience as a Spanish teacher and coach in Oklahoma. But Ramirez and his former employer failed to mention that he had been accused of having an improper relationship with a female student during his six years at Lawton Public Schools.
    That detail of his teaching past didn’t surface until Ramirez was arrested a year after his hire for having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female student at the Georgia high school. The charges against him eventually were dropped after his 2003 trial ended in a hung jury, and soon Ramirez was teaching in another high school, this time in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
    The case illustrates the difficulty administrators face in tracking sexual misconduct allegations against teachers who cross states. There is no national government-run clearinghouse to alert officials to teacher misconduct and there is no guarantee that districts will report allegations to each other.
    Applicants for teaching jobs in most states, including Georgia and Florida, are supposed to tell prospective employers about previous accusations. But that often doesn’t happen, and if the teacher isn’t convicted of a crime, they easily pass a routine criminal background check.
    ‘‘A lot of districts, due to liability issues, are sometimes hesitant to fully disclose past behavior,’’ said Tom Everett, attorney for the Montgomery County school board. ‘‘It’s very frustrating. If his prior employer didn’t disclose any problems, we’d have no way of knowing.’’
    Georgia revoked or denied certification to at least 87 teachers between 2001 and 2005 for sexual misconduct, including Ramirez, state documents show. That represents 20 percent of the 435 denials and revocations for the state in that time period, according to records from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.
    Georgia’s figures were gathered as part of a seven-month investigation in which AP reporters sought records on teacher discipline in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Across the country, sexual misconduct allegations led states to take action against the licenses of 2,570 educators from 2001 through 2005. That figure includes licenses that were revoked, denied and surrendered.
    Nationally, young people were victims in at least 69 percent of the cases, and the large majority of those were students. Nine out of 10 of those abusive educators were male. And at least 445 of the cases the AP found involved educators who had multiple victims.
    There are about 3 million teachers in the United States.
    Georgia teachers had their certifications revoked or denied for a variety of reasons — from the frequent use of expletives in front of students to misrepresenting their qualifications on their resumes. Some had their certifications taken away after they had run-ins with the law outside of school.
    The problems were in rural and urban counties alike, according to data from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which oversees the licensing of teachers.
    The commission is installing 65 stations across the state where school districts can scan applicants’ fingerprints rather than having to send the prints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to run background checks. The change will cut a process that once took weeks down to just a few days, said Gary Walker, director of educator ethics for the commission.
    Ramirez’s case also highlights the difficulty in determining whether teachers who are accused of sexual misconduct are really a predator or a victim themselves. He has denied both accusations against him and he has never been convicted of a crime.
    ‘‘I am an innocent man,’’ said Ramirez, a Puerto Rico native who now works in social services in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and no longer teaches.
    Ramirez’s teaching career began in Waurika, Okla., where he taught for one year before moving to nearby Lawton. There, he earned praise from his colleagues and even was named a department chairman in 1999.
    But that year, officials say, a 16-year-old girl complained to Cynthia Walker, then the principal at Lawton Senior High School, that Ramirez kissed her and made unwanted comments about her body. She said he made comments that sounded to her as if her grade depended on how much she liked him.
    According to his personnel file, Walker wrote Ramirez a memo that an internal investigation found ‘‘probable cause’’ to support allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct with a student.
    The girl’s parents did not want to pursue the allegations criminally, so Ramirez was urged to resign, said Chuck Wade, general counsel for Lawton Public Schools.
    Ramirez said no sexual misconduct ever took place and neither Walker nor anyone else ever accused him of that. He blamed his resignation on a disagreement with administrators over disciplinary problems he had with a male student.
    Ramirez, his wife and two children headed to Georgia, where he began working at Rockdale County High School in suburban Atlanta. Two weeks after Ramirez left Oklahoma, Rockdale administrators called Walker and she gave him a good recommendation. She never mentioned the accusations of sexual misconduct.
    ‘‘Students and parents did love him,’’ said Walker, now the curriculum director for the Lawton school district. ‘‘There was just the one student who made the allegation of the inappropriate relationship.’’
    Ramirez taught for a semester at Rockdale without incident. He then moved to Montgomery County High School in Mount Vernon, Ga., where one student says he soon began taking a special interest in her.
    Now 23 and married with two children, the woman said she considered Ramirez to be her mentor, someone she respected. He would tell her she was smart, pretty and mature for her age, she said. He would pull her out of class to spend time with her in his classroom — both alone and while the class was full of students, she said. And he would sometimes leave pieces of her favorite hard candy on her desk, she said.
    Their relationship was intimate, she said.
    ‘‘We exchanged a lot of e-mails, some hinted around having feelings for each other,’’ said the woman as she sat in her parents’ home in the small, close-knit town of Mount Vernon. ‘‘He would tell me he loved me.’’
    She agreed to talk on condition of anonymity because she didn’t want her past to hurt her present life.
    Others noticed something was going on.
    ‘‘She would stay in his classroom,’’ said Sue Maybin, a longtime secretary at the school. ‘‘He didn’t try to stay away from her either.’’
    In October 2001, the girl told Superintendent Dale Clark that she and Ramirez had sex twice. He was arrested that day, charged with sexual assault, and resigned before he was taken to jail.
    Many thought Ramirez ‘‘walked on water,’’ and his arrest split the school, Clark said.
    His 2003 trial ended with a mistrial, the jury hanging 11-1 for acquittal, said his lawyer, Francis Stubbs. The charges were dropped after prosecutors decided not to retry the case.
    The student said she was shocked at the outcome of the case.
    ‘‘I just do not understand how 12 jurors could sit there and think I made this up,’’ she said. ‘‘It know it happened. I was there.’’
    Montgomery County High School is in the middle of another sex scandal.
    Carrie O’Connor, the high school guidance counselor — and Clark’s daughter — was arrested in August and charged with one count of sexual assault for having an inappropriate relationship with one of her 16-year-old male students. O’Connor is scheduled to be arraigned in January.
    The teaching certifications for both O’Connor and Clark were revoked in early September.
    Clark’s revocation was in part because failing to report the accusation against her daughter to the state in a timely manner. She resigned her post as superintendent but is working as a consultant for the school district, said Everett, the county attorney.
    After his time in Georgia, Ramirez moved south to Florida, where he applied at the St. Lucie County school district.
    Susan Ranew, Port St. Lucie County School Board’s assistant superintendent, said Ramirez’s references checked out and that Clark returned a form saying he had demonstrated successful teaching experience. Lawton Public Schools officials checked the box on the form indicating he did not have a successful teaching experience.
    Clark admitted filling out the form, but insists she also called St. Lucie County officials to tell them about Ramirez’s past. Ranew said there is no record of such a communication, but said it could have happened.
    Ramirez was hired at Fort Pierce Central High School for the 2003-2004 school year. He had been there a few months with no problems when St. Lucie officials say they learned about the Georgia allegations.
    He was transferred to a desk job away from students and fired at the end of the school year, Ranew said.
    Ramirez, who said he is innocent of both allegations, said he learned a lesson from the experience.
    ‘‘Be careful who you trust,’’ he said. ‘‘There is always two stories for everything.’’
    Lisa Orkin Emmanuel in Miami and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City, Okla., contributed to this report.
    On the Net:
    Georgia Professional Standards Commission:
    National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification:
    Montgomery County Schools:

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