Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Broken Trust

Matthew Herman has a problem. But it isn’t finding a job.

For three years at South Broward High, the teacher subjected teen girls to his sexual aggression, state records show.

One girl said he tried to kiss her belly button. Two said he invited them home for sex. One later claimed he cornered her in a supply room, unbuckled his pants and asked her to “touch it, kiss it, or at least look at it.”

The girls put up with it at first.

But they unleashed accusations after a student came forward with an especially troubling story – that Herman had dropped his pants when they were alone.

In all, state Department of Education officials investigated 20 allegations described by a half-dozen girls. Records show they believed every one.

Their decision?

Send Herman back to school.

Herman’s story is not unusual.

The Herald-Tribune spent two years investigating how school districts and the state Department of Education handle teachers who sexually harass and abuse or physically attack students.

It found that Florida’s system to protect students malfunctions at every level, from schools to school districts to the highest levels of government in Tallahassee.

Even when state regulators believe teachers engage in the worst kind of behavior, they send them back to the classroom with no guarantee they will be monitored.

Often, even principals, including Herman’s, have no idea their teacher has been punished for abuse.

Education officials at every level do not know how many teachers have been investigated for sexual abuse or how many they have sent back to classrooms.

To find out, the Herald-Tribune reviewed the results of more than 14,000 teacher investigations going back as far as 1997.

The analysis – the first of its kind – shows that more than 300 teachers have been punished in recent years for sexual misconduct — molesting students, seducing them, having them pose nude or lavishing them with unwanted attention. Nearly 450 more physically attacked or verbally terrorized their students.

More than half of those teachers kept their license to teach. At least 150 teach in a Florida classroom today.

Click here to read the rest of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune story.

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