SACRAMENTO -- More than 300 California educators had their teaching licenses revoked or suspended because of sex-related offenses from 2001 through 2005.
But you can't tell that from the state's enforcement records -- at least not those available to the public.
While some of the most egregious sex abuse is flagged, state law allows many offenses to remain confidential in education records, even when teachers go to prison and register as sex offenders.
The lack of information reflects a system for disciplining teachers that, across the country, often is shrouded in secrecy.
That makes it difficult for states to share valuable information about errant teachers and allows some to find other jobs in the classroom.
In California, The Associated Press reviewed more than 2,000 cases in which teachers were punished for misconduct. Among them were hundreds of cases classified as "general misconduct."
The case of Tanda Rucker, a former college basketball star who taught and coached girls basketball at Alameda's Encinal High School, was one of those. After several teens reported having a sexual relationship with Rucker, she pleaded no contest to 18 felony counts. She was sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to register as a sex offender.
Yet an official bulletin from California's Commission on Teacher Credentialing reported only that Rucker's teaching credential was revoked for misconduct under broad sections of state law that cover everything from theft to murder.
California provides limited details
The AP's review found dozens of similar cases, often involving pleas of no contest, a common legal agreement that allows one to avoid a trial or civil liability, but still leads to conviction.
California law also bars the credentialing commission from revealing the reason teachers who plead no contest lose their licenses.
It's a dangerous loophole, said Rep. Todd Spitzer, a Republican from Orange County.
"There is the possibility that one of these people could move to another jurisdiction, most likely another state, and you wouldn't be able to find out their history," said Spitzer, a former prosecutor and high school Eng-lish teacher.
Here's how it can happen: California submits information on teachers who lose their licenses to a national database. But because of California's law, the state only provides limited details. So officials in another state might find out that someone they want to hire had a problem in California, but it's nearly impossible for them to learn more from education records.
In some cases, school officials have only a one-year window to access California disciplinary records.
That came into play in 2002, after California granted a probationary license to Craig Kinder. He'd been forced out of a suburban St. Louis district amid accusations that he'd touched students inappropriately. Kinder was acquitted on criminal charges -- but California officials gave him a license only on the condition that he tell prospective employers about his past.
He didn't do that when he applied at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.
And by the time district officials figured out he'd lied, the state -- and the very California agency that required Kinder to disclose his history -- had sealed his disciplinary records.
That made it tough to fire Kinder, said Lorri McCune, then the district's assistant superintendent of human resources.
"This, to me, was a gross miscarriage of their responsibility," McCune said. "We had basically no recourse, which really made me sick."
Kinder eventually voluntarily surrendered his California license in 2003, after the Newport-Mesa district spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to force him out.
His attorney did not respond to mes- sages.
Mary Armstrong, the state credentialing commission's legal counsel, couldn't discuss the Kinder case, but said her agency seals some disciplinary records because state law requires it.
"It's a balance between the rights of a teacher who may be falsely accused," she said, "and the rights of the public."