A School District Ignored Teacher’s Misconduct. This Reporter Didn’t.

EWA Radio: Episode 141

Bethany Barnes of The Oregonian discusses “The Benefit of the Doubt,” her investigation into how Portland Public Schools botched its handling of multiple allegations of a middle school teacher’s sexual misconduct stretching back more than a decade.

Despite a five-month fight by the school district to withhold relevant documents, Barnes uncovered a paper trail showing numerous red flags, plus first-person accounts from students of the teacher’s lewd behavior. (The teacher, Mitchell Whitehurst, eventually surrendered his teaching license and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment.) The district has now hired an independent investigator to review its policies and procedures. How did Barnes push back when her open records requests were stonewalled? How did she track down victims and witnesses? What advice does she have for reporters who are alerted to allegations of teacher misconduct?

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