Transcript for Passing the trash, Part 1: Schools unload problematic teachers by hiding alleged misconduct
Tonight we investigate a hidden classroom tragedy. It's called passing the trash. The practice of school administrators unloading problematic teachers on to other schools by hiding allegations of sexual misconduct. Sometimes even providing recommendations and then looking the other way. Now two brave young women are speaking out to end this. Here's ABC's Amy robach. He started touching us in improper places. Reporter: This is the footage of a young girl alleging abuse in her elementary school classroom. You weren't comfortable in that chair? Yeah. Reporter: Yeneli Hernandez struggling to find the right words to describe the inexplicable, as part of the 2009 police investigation into alleged abuse. He touched us like right here and all that. And sometimes he stuck his hands deeper in. And then I used to always wear my jacket and then never wear skirts, I always used to wear pants because I was afraid. So when you say he stuck his hands right here? Was that on your closes or on your skin? On my skin. Reporter: She alleges she was preyed upon by her fourth grade teacher Gary Gregor. Ten years later she says those memories still haunt her. He's standing next to so many children who are unaware of the person he is. Reporter: A person, it turns out, who had a trail of allegations of misconduct following him for years, across two school districts, from state to state, classroom to classroom. Neyeli says the class was different from the start. Gregor showering a group of girls with gifts. I remember getting a white t-shirt with purple flowers on it. It said my name on it. I got a little notebook. It was green. My favorite color. Reporter: Singling them out for special treatment. He would have us sit next to him in the class room. As we had elected officials, council members. And I was always on that council. I felt like I had some kind of power in the class. Especially above the other students who didn't get elected. Reporter: In front of the classroom, seated next to Gregor, nele says she became a target for abuse. I drew thoughts on the spots where we were touched. And different colors are for the different girls. I just felt strange to have to talk about it at such a young age when I wasn't comfortable even saying the words. He told you to go in the closet and then what? Then he said he wanted to kiss him. The thing I remember most was feeling the warmth of his breath next to my face on my ear. His lips touching mine. It didn't feel right and I didn't want it and I wanted it to end, but I was so afraid. Reporter: Her story is familiar. It is an explosive reality. The department of education estimates 4.5 million students experience sexual misconduct at the hands of a school employee some time between kindergarten and 12th grade. Another government report found that in its study, on average, one child predator in schools had as many as 73 victims. Sometimes without ever being caught. Serious loophole in the state system make it easy for predators to evade detection. School leaders continue to allow predatory teachers to move from one classroom to another. Reporter: Passing the trash is how many refer to it. An easy way for administrators to unload problematic teachers onto other schools while hiding alleged misconduct through confidential agreements and other means, sometimes even providing recommendations, then looking the other way. They basically say, grease the wheels so that you can go get a job somewhere else, as long as it's not here at our school. Reporter: Attorney Dave ring says he has litigated passing the trash cases for more than 20 years. Why do you think administrators allow these teachers to just move on? It's the easy way out. It's the quickest, most efficient solution to get rid of a dangerous teacher. Get them out of our school. Let someone else deal with them. Hold our breath. Reporter: Gary Gregor taught fifth grade in Utah, in 1995 the state charging him with sexual abuse of a child. A district judge dismissed the charges citing insufficient proof and the state board of education issued Gregor a reprimand. He turned up as a teacher in two other schools in Montana and new Mexico, before becoming a fourth grade teacher in Santa fe. There, during a field trip in 2004, museum staff reported seeing Gregor inappropriately touching students. The school investigated, finding that Gregor hugged and tickled the girls. The principal writing, I believe this may be grooming behavior on the part of Dr. Gregor. Later that year, Santa fe public schools and Gregor signed an agreement that he would resign and not apply for another position within the school district. And in exchange he would receive a neutral recommendation. Meanwhile, Gregor stands firm that no wrongdoing ever took place. You shouldn't allow a teacher to have a neutral recommendation who you've given this kind of reprimand to. Reporter: Agreements like this are what congress aimed to stamp out when it passed a 2015 law requiring states to prohibit helping a school employee find a new job after sexual misconduct is found or even suspected. The Los Angeles school district not only hid the truth, it provided three references. Reporter: But the law didn't require background checks on school employees, and with 45 states yet to implement regulations, critics say it has no teeth. Neyeli was one of the few to come forward to accuse their teacher by reporting the alleged abuse to the principal, ruby Montoya. Her his honor was he was a good friend of hers, he wouldn't do it. Reporter: Montoya placed the blame on the girls, even went so far as going into the classroom to reprimand them. She told the class we shouldn't be making false accusations, she was pretty much calling us liars. Reporter: After the alleged public scolding she kept quiet. I felt trapped. I couldn't escape from it. Who was going to believe me? I was a little girl, he was an adult. Reporter: Her friend told her own parents prompting them to call the police who conducted an investigation. Once the police forwarded their report to the district attorney's office, the case languished. To date, there has been no prosecution. Mr. Attorney general, it's been nearly eight years since a young girl and her family brought charges. What do you know about why no legal action was taken? We have a system right now that favors employment rights over student safety ryes. It's a real wakeup call for the country. The burden is unfortunately put on the backs of young student realize we have predators who are trained to groom, and simply there were too many systemic failures involved. Most importantly what's detrimental here are administrators are knowingly allowing an educator that's high risk to go seek employment in other districts in other states. I think that is a horrific tale that needs to be remedied immediately. Reporter: A year-long investigation into passing the trash by "Usa today" reporter Steve Riley found it was extremely rare for administrators to be held criminally accountable. Nationwide, across decades of cases, we found one. A local prosecutor went forward with charges against administrators. Reporter: Ten years after those difficult days in Gregor's fourth grade class neyeli has filed civil suits against Gregor and Montoya. "Nightline's" repeated requests for interview with Gregor have gone unanswered. In a statement principal Montoya said she has dedicated herself to public education for over 25 years and that she absolutely denied neyeli's allegations adding, they are not supported by the case facts and miss Montoya has faith all claims against her will be dismissed in the court proceeding. This is the first step. And the judge issues this scheduling order. Reporter: Neyeli, now in college, has a simple wish. I would only hope that he would tell the truth. By not saying the truth, he is pretty much calling me a liar straight to my face. Saying that a little fourth grade 9-year-old girl is lying about something that hurt her. Reporter: She may now also face Gregor in a criminal court. I'm pleased to announce we have gathered and secured enough evidence that we'll be moving forward and have notified the individual in question for a grand jury hearing. I was appalled by this case. We are pursuing all options of any potential individuals who failed to provide safety, security, and protection for these children. Reporter: Neyeli has foeshlgefoeshlg forged ahead and dreams of making a positive difference in the lives of children. I've considered being a teacher. I love children so much. I know there's so much I can do for them. Reporter: But the damage can be crippling for some. When we come back we go inside the mind of a once-vulnerable 16-year-old student who blamed herself for years, now stepping out of the shadows to tell her story, one with a devastating twist. When I got pregnant, this part of me that I thought I was, this woman who was sophisticated and like worldly and wise, just fell apart. And revealing the grooming tactics of her abuser who she alleged was passed from school
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