LA CRESCENT, Wisconsin (WXOW)-- The arrest of a school teacher in La Crescent on sexual misconduct charges is raising questions about the teacher licensing process.
Jason Barker, was special education teacher at the La Crescent Montessori Academy. The 37-year-old faces charges of criminal sexual conduct involving students
His arrest came January 18, after school officials called police. According to the criminal complaint, one student told a teacher that Barker had touched her inappropriately more than five times. Another student told police a similar story.
News 19 examined Barker's criminal history and licensing requirements in the state of Minnesota. Barker received his elementary education license in 2005 and it was renewed in 2010.
"We have a requirement in state law that requires for initial teaching licenses, for all applicants that apply for a Minnesota teaching license, must go through a background check," said Karen Balmer the executive director for the Minnesota Board of Teaching.
Barker's 2005 background check would turn up a conviction of criminal damage to property and a misdemeanor conviction of burglary.
When Barker applied for his supplemental licenses, allowing him to teach special education in 2012, his criminal history would include additional misdemeanor convictions of disorderly conduct and possession of THC. But, a background check is not required for those supplemental licenses.
"If a teacher renews a teaching license or adds a field of licensure, the application has what we call a conduct review statement where they provide information," Balmer said. "There's a series of questions relating to whether they've been convicted of a crime."
On his April 2012 application, Barker did disclose he had a felony conviction. He also explained a charge of providing alcohol to minors, though that charge was dismissed.
On his application Barker said in part:
"I admit that I brought alcohol to the party and am guilty of negligence and leaving it unattended but I would like to make it clear I did not buy the alcohol for the underage employees nor did I imply in anyway that they were welcome to help themselves to it."
"He didn't fudge anything and he disclosed and did what he was suppose to do," said Cheryl Gill, an attorney with Johns, Flaherty & Collins.
Gill is not involved with the Barker case, but reviewed his application and the licensing laws in Minnesota.
"Based on my review of the law, I don't see that the board of teaching did anything wrong," Gill said.
In Minnesota the only convictions that make a person ineligible for a teaching license relate to sexual assault and possession of child pornography. Other criminal convictions are reviewed and licenses are issued at the discretion of the teaching board.
"We do engage a process where we seek further information: police reports, court reports, whether children were involved, to determine whether we would pursue disciplinary action or deny a license application," Balmer said.
If convicted of the charges involving sexual contact with a minor, Barker would then be ineligible for a teaching license.
Barker also has other pending charges. In June of 2012, he was charged with two felony counts of assault in the second degree with a dangerous weapon, in Winona County.
According to the criminal complaint, Barker threatened a couple with a three-inch knife. Barker's next court appearance on those charges is scheduled for March 14. These charges came after he received his licenses and no law in Minnesota required Barker to disclose the charges.
News 19 talked to the attorney for the La Crescent Montessori Academy. Attorney Dawn Harris says they are considering changes to contracts, that would require staff to report charges, like those Barker faces in Winona.
"We're going to set policy regarding frequency of background checks. I don't know of any district that requires annual or midyear background checks," Harris said. "We're going to be requiring yearly and we're also considering putting terms in teaching contracts that require teachers to report any charges they are facing."
Just like Minnesota, convictions relating to sexual assault or child pornography make a person ineligible for a teaching license in Wisconsin.
However, Wisconsin is stricter: anyone with any felony conviction, except for a class I felony, cannot get a teaching license for six years after the conviction.
"The interesting thing about Wisconsin's policy scheme is that there's sort of a policy decision that people who've been convicted of a felony shouldn't be teachers until they've had a chance to sort of redeem themselves for a period of six years," Gill said.
Gill says even though Wisconsin's laws are stricter, Barker would still have been eligible for a Wisconsin teaching license.
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