SEATTLE - When science and math instructor Peter Gulsrud ended his 25-year teaching career at Shadle Park High School in Spokane in 2002, he blamed mental illness and crowded classrooms for inappropriate conversations with students and what he called accidental touching of the breasts and buttocks of female students.
School officials probably thought they had heard the last of Gulsrud when his license was revoked by the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction a few years later.
But now Gulsrud is back in a classroom on the other side of the state, where he was hired by Pierce College to teach an introductory chemistry class at its Lakewood campus.
Gulsrud is one of 125 teachers who lost their Washington teacher's licenses or had their licenses suspended between 2001 and 2005 for sexual misconduct.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
That's about half the Washington teachers who lost their licenses or had them suspended during that time period, but only a tiny fraction of the 65,000 teachers currently licensed in the state.
Washington'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.
Washington state investigates about seven or eight teachers per year for sexual misconduct. Department's investigators are currently looking into 11 cases of alleged sexual misconduct, said Charles Schreck, director of OSPI's Office of Professional Practices.
"One case is too many as far as we're concerned," he added.
Gulsrud was surprised and a little dismayed to hear the state of Washington lists the reason his license was taken away as "sexual misconduct."
He told The Associated Press he didn't agree with everything that was said during the investigation and hearings that led to him losing his license, but acknowledges that he has "a personal space issue."
"I am aware now that I made some students ... feel uncomfortable," said Gulsrud, who has been in therapy ever since accusations were first made against him in 1999. "I'm more aware now of professional boundaries."
Pierce College officials said they were unaware that Gulsrud lost his license to teach high school in 2005 but maintain that proper procedures were followed when he was hired.
Gulsrud said he was frank with Pierce College about his experience in Spokane. College officials said they checked his references before hiring him. "We did call the one reference that he'd given and talked to someone at the district," said Jan Bucholz, the college's vice president for human resources, who said Gulsrud will not be teaching there next quarter.
State education officials say most public school teachers accused of sexual misconduct never get a second chance if the accusations are found to be credible, but a handful find their way back into the classroom by moving to another state or coming back after a suspension.
Chad Maughan became a junior high science teacher in the Bethel School District after being suspended on a pornography charge in 2003, when he worked for the North Thurston Public Schools.
Administrators in his new district were aware of his problems in Thurston County but decided to give Maughan a second chance. He was soon in trouble again.
Just a few months after starting his new job, Maughan was caught looking at inappropriate sites on a Bethel School District computer in November 2004. He agreed to participate in a pornography addiction program.
A few months later, Principal Paul Kempfer was called by a teacher who reported that two girls had told her their friend was having a sexual relationship with Maughan.
He was arrested the next day and now is serving 34 months in jail after pleading guilty to having sexual contact with a 14-year-old female student. His teaching license has been permanently revoked.
Anyone thinking of hiring Maughan after he gets out of jail can learn all about his experience as a teacher by calling Schreck.
"I can check our database in just a couple of minutes," he said.
Thanks to changes in state law about 17 years ago, it is much easier to get this information and much harder now for teachers who abused students to move to another school or another state to start over.
In the early 1990s, the state education department opened its professional practices office. Applicants for teacher licenses are now required to be fingerprinted and sent through an FBI check. And Washington is now part of a national network that tracks bad teachers.
The same procedures do not apply to community college teachers, some of whom are teaching 18-year olds who were 17-year-old high school students a few months earlier, but are now legally adults.
Until recently, the distinctions between high school and college were even blurrier in Washington. Sex between teachers and high school students 16 or older was not illegal in this state. Until the Legislature outlawed such relationships in 2001, prosecutors had to prove a student-teacher relationship was not consensual.
There are no state rules or laws governing sexual relationships between students and teachers at community colleges, although sexual harassment laws apply. People doing the hiring at community colleges follow a set of best practices, said John Boesenberg, director for human resources for the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.
"Most of the colleges do a full reference and background check," Boesenberg said.
Principal Herb Rotchford of Shadle Park High School, who was not in charge of the school when Gulsrud taught there, said no one from Pierce College called him to find out why he left the school.
Bucholz said the college had requested a copy of the order revoking Gulsrud's license and a school official had sat down with the chemistry teacher to review the college's sexual harassment policy.
Gulsrud is teaching one class at Pierce College this fall Bucholz said, adding that his students have given him positive reviews.
"We want to make sure our students have a positive learning environment. The quality of teaching is high on our agenda," she said.
Boesenberg said a lost license should be a red flag.
"We want our campuses to be safe for our students and our employees," Boesenberg said. "I think the colleges do the very best they can to hire good teachers."
Teacher disciplinary records are available to the public through the state public records laws. But while licensing is the province of state officials, hiring decisions are entirely up to the schools.
Hiring is one of the most difficult decisions a principal makes and probably the part of the job for which they get the least amount of training, said Gary Kipp, a former public school principal and executive director of the Association of Washington School Principals.
Asking the right questions when calling a teacher's former employers is a bit of an art form, Kipp said.
"The big question that most ask is would you hire this person again if they were applying for a position like this in your district," Kipp said. "This usually uncovers the issue if there was a problem."
Screening teacher candidates before they enter the classroom takes a similar talent, said Darcy Miller, a professor in the Teaching and Learning Department at Washington State University.
The state asks teacher training programs to attest to the character and fitness of candidates, and screen for behavior that might be detrimental to students.
But the character assessment must be based on behavior and not just feelings or opinions.