Court sides with Oregon principal in teacher misconduct case

December 29, 2017

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the state’s decision to revoke the license of a former Astoria High School principal who failed to act on warnings of possible sexual misconduct by a teacher in 2004.

In Thursday’s opinion, the court said the state teacher licensing agency failed to cite professional standards or expectations that would have made clear how a principal should respond to reports that a teacher may be breaching boundaries with a student.

The principal, Larry Lockett, told The Oregonian/OregonLive he would have intervened in 2004 if he had known the full story. Though he’s now retired, he said he was pleased with the ruling because “my reputation is important.”

The relationship between the teacher and student didn’t come to light until nearly a decade later, when the student revealed it to a therapist and the therapist went to police. Police investigated but determined the statute of limitations had run out.

A subsequent school district investigation found two teacher aides said they had told Lockett in spring 2004 they were concerned because they had found the science teacher alone in his classroom with the student with the lights off and doors locked.

Oregon’s Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, which licenses teachers and principals, concluded that Lockett subsequently met with the teacher and the student to discuss their plans to have the girl move into the teacher’s home during her senior year to help care for him as he recovered from a broken leg while his wife and children were out of the country.

Lockett said he understood the girl would be a nanny for the family — with the children remaining at home — and that the teacher’s wife helped decide to put her in that role.

“If I would have known that there was a male teacher living alone with a female student in Astoria, Oregon, I would have been at that house in an hour,” he said.

The commission revoked Lockett’s license, saying he demonstrated “an extreme lack of professional judgment and leadership and shows serious and material inattention to his responsibilities as principal.”

But the appeals court ruled that the commission did not detail why Lockett’s inaction was a lapse in judgment or what Lockett should have done given the circumstances. It sent the case back to the teacher licensing agency for a new ruling.

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