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Teacher loses license over Internet porn

PERU, NY — The New York State Education Department has revoked the license of a Peru Primary School teacher caught viewing porn on classroom computers.

As a result, second-grade teacher Luther Stephney, who has always stressed that no children were present when he viewed the pornography, is no longer on paid administrative leave with the School District.

“The state took definitive action,” said Peru Central School Superintendent A. Paul Scott.

Stephney did not return a message left on his home phone by the Press-Republican Monday seeking comment.

Peru Central School officials placed Stephney on paid administrative leave in March 2004 and began an investigation after software revealed he had viewed porn sites while at school.

After being caught, Stephney admitted viewing the sites two or three times, but an examination of his classroom computers revealed that in one month he viewed porn six times on all three computers. He viewed the sites for 50 minutes once and 54 minutes another time.

Stephney stressed that he made sure his second-grade students were at lunch, in art and music classes or dismissed for the day when he viewed the sites.

The School Board suspended him with pay and began seeking his dismissal.

The administrative charges lodged against him were insubordination; neglect of duties; searching for and viewing inappropriate, immoral and obscene images on the Internet; and violating the district’s Internet policy.

On Jan. 11, 2005, Hearing Officer Ira Lobel found Stephney guilty of every charge except providing false and misleading information to the district during its investigation.

Lobel’s ruling was that Stephney be suspended without pay for the remainder of the 2004-05 school year, and he retained jurisdiction over the matter for two years.

The School Board appealed Lobel’s ruling and again sought Stephney’s dismissal, arguing through counsel that the ruling violated public policy and trivialized federal, state and local efforts to keep pornography out of the classroom.

Clinton County Supreme Court Acting Justice Kevin Ryan agreed with the School Board and ordered that Lobel impose a new penalty.

In his second decision, Lobel stopped short of dismissal but ordered that besides the original suspension without pay, Stephney must attend counseling at his own expense and on his own time.

But the State Certification Board reopened the case after its review, and an arbitrator recommended Stephney’s teaching license be pulled.

Stephney has said he understood there must be consequences for his actions, but he felt pulling his license would be too harsh a punishment.

“A certain teacher was placed on paid administrative leave by the School District in March 2004,” Scott said, “and that individual was later charged with misconduct by the State Education Department based on the same incidents. That process ultimately resulted in revocation of that individual’s teaching certificate.

“That person is no longer on paid administrative leave, and the School District expects prompt closure on this matter.”

Scott declined to comment beyond the actions taken thus far by the Education Department.

“I cannot discuss a personnel matter.”

Stephney could resign, or he has the right to initiate a further hearing process to prove beyond any doubt that his teaching certificate was revoked.

The Education Department revoked his certificate this month.

A long-term substitute has been in place in Stephney’s classroom and will continue to instruct the second-grade students.

“We will know more in the weeks ahead what we will do from a recruitment standpoint,” Scott said. “There will be consideration given to what is in the best interests of the students and parents involved.

“But, for now, we have a very capable teacher who has been in that classroom since the start of the school year, and she is providing fine service.”

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