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Teachers Accused of Sexual Misconduct Kept Licenses for Years

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Teachers Accused of Sexual Misconduct Kept Licenses for Years
The NBC 6 Investigators contacted the Florida Department of Education after finding teachers accused of sexual misconduct kept their license for months, even years. NBC 6's Willard Shepard reports. (Published Friday, Sep 27, 2019 ) The NBC 6 Investigators contacted the Florida Department of Education after finding teachers accused... See More

The NBC 6 Investigators contacted the Florida Department of Education after finding teachers accused of sexual misconduct kept their license for months, even years. NBC 6's Willard Shepard reports.

(Published Friday, Sep 27, 2019)

Wendell Nibbs has been coming in and out of court for almost two years. But he had a license to teach until a few days ago.

The former physical education teacher is now an inmate at a local jail facing sexual battery charges for what his former students said he did in and outside of school.

"There are allegations in each affidavit that the defendant had sexual relationships with students while they attended Brownsville Middle School," prosecutors said during a hearing earlier this year.

Nibbs, who taught at Brownsville for nearly two decades, has been arrested twice in two years as a result of the students' allegations.

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The NBC 6 Investigators have been uncovering new details in Nibbs' case for months, including allegations from nine students dating back to 2004. According to police and school records, the alleged abuse range from multiple rapes to inappropriate comments about a student's sexuality. One of the girls told police they repeatedly had unprotected sex and she believes he may be the father of her child.

NBC 6 Investigators spoke exclusively with the father of one of those nine students. We will refer to him as William.

"No parent should have to go through that," he said. "This is my daughter. This is my baby girl."

Williams says Nibbs harassed and molested his daughter when she was a middle school student at Brownsville.

"My daughter's innocence was taken from me. My daughter was taken from me. A 13-year-old can't be exposed to that and go back," he said.

Nibbs, who has pleaded not guilty to sexual battery charges involving other students, has been in jail awaiting trial since March but we found his Florida teaching license remained active almost the entire time.

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"I'm not surprised," William told us when we showed him the state records months ago.

Nibbs' case is not unique.

NBC 6 Investigators found more than a dozen South Florida (Miami-Dade and Broward) teachers kept their licenses months and even years after being arrested, convicted or fired from their districts following allegations of sexual misconduct.

The list includes an elementary school teacher who was accused of molesting girls as young as eight, a teacher who told police he had oral sex with a student inside a school bathroom and another who admitted having child pornography.

The Department of Education wouldn't confirm or deny if some of these cases are under investigation. Some licenses have expired in recent months.

The Florida Board of Education passed a rule this summer that give districts 24-hours to report teachers and other certified staff facing serious criminal charges or allegations the districts determine to be substantiated.

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The reportable offenses include murder, kidnapping and unlawful sexual activity with minors.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who was appointed in December 2018, explained the reason for implementing the new rule during an interview with NBC 6 Investigators in July.

"We had numerous responses and reports of teachers that we didn't get a notification that we'd revoked their licenses right away and make sure they are not in a classroom and they are not a threat to our students," Corcoran said.

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The commissioner says accused teachers could lose their certification.

"We are going to do what we have done in the last six months that we immediately revoke, upon notice," he said.

But the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) has to follow a series of steps before it can take action against a teacher's certificate and it's up to the Education Practices Commission (a quasi-judicial independent body) to make the final decision.

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This process can take years.

School records show the Miami-Dade School Board sent a letter to the state about Nibbs' case back in February 2016. But it took more than three years, until April 11, 2019, for the Florida Department of Education to find probable cause to sanction Nibbs' certificate, which was eventually cancelled.

The FDOE sent us a statement saying Nibbs' certificate was cancelled at the direction of Commissioner Corcoran, adding "the license status of 'cancelled' is applied only under specific direction from the Commissioner when the health, safety, and welfare of Florida students are in jeopardy."

The status change on Nibbs' license came after the NBC 6 Investigators provided the department with a list of teachers who have been accused of sexual misconduct, including Nibbs.

There was no notation in the online system that verifies a teacher's license that indicated that probable cause was found to sanction his teaching certificate before it was cancelled.

In an email, a department's spokesperson told us it acted "in accordance with Mr. Nibbs' due process rights and the Office of the State Attorney."

"This guy wasn't trustworthy," Williams said. "He didn't honor his oath as a teacher."

NBC 6 Investigators obtained a letter that Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvahlo sent to the commissioner in January. In it, he expressed concern about the length of the state investigations writing the process "can often exceed a year" and that it's a "great concern" that employees who had been terminated could find a job in another educational entity while they are under investigation.

Carvahlo asked the commissioner to consider temporary suspensions on those educators' certifications.

The commissioner told us temporary suspensions could be a possibility but "it depends on the facts and circumstances" of the case.

Corcoran promised his administration will move as quickly as possible in revoking people that they think could pose a risk to the safety of students.

But the commissioner's approach concerns Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco.

"Everybody has the right to due process. It's a constitutional right," she said.

Fusco says teachers shouldn't have their certificates revoked or suspended due to unproven allegations - adding there are other ways to keep students safe.

"We agree that precautions should be taken," she said. "That's why there are many places in our school district that a person can be moved and continue to do a job but not actually having actual a direct interaction with students."

The state can require districts to remove accused teachers from the classroom. But that's already local districts' policy.

Fusco is also concerned about the new reporting rule, which she describes as a "big Catch-22."

"It's such a small time frame to get some accurate facts," she said. "That could be really detrimental to the person who has the allegation put against them."

Nibbs' attorney declined to comment about the allegations or his certification since the criminal case is pending. Nibbs previously denied having any inappropriate contact with students during an interview with police in 2017.

This story is from our sister station, NBC Miami. Click here for more investigative stories from NBC stations across the county.

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