Nadine Sudlow made news in 2015.

The March 15 headline on the New York Post’s website blared: “High school teacher made sex tape with student: report.”

According to the article, city education investigators had determined that the 27-year-old English teacher had sex with a student, who took pictures and video of the illicit encounters, sharing them with his classmates.

Sudlow resigned in 2014 and the New York City public schools banned her from employment.

And now with the investigation exposed in the media — available to anyone who could Google her name — one might think she’d never be able to teach again.

Think again.

A month after the article, the state of New Jersey granted Sudlow a teaching certificate and she was hired by the Newark school district, where Sudlow claims a principal who knew about her sordid history encouraged her to apply for a job, according to documents obtained by New Jersey 101.5.

Sudlow is not the only example of this happening in New Jersey, and it’s far from the most egregious case. But it does raise new questions about what school districts are doing to keep children safe.

Thanks to fears of getting sued, union rules and state laws that protect educators who have been accused of misconduct, and the inability or unwillingness of some states to alert others about pending investigations or disciplinary actions, sexual predators have managed to move from district to district, state to state, victimizing one child to the next before they’re finally stopped.

“It happens so often because they can get away with it,” said Terri Miller, president of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation, or SESAME. “They have the support of the teachers union. School administrators and districts would rather stay safe and save money than save children.”

Miller’s group is among many victims advocate organizations supporting legislation currently being considered by New Jersey lawmakers that would prohibit confidentiality agreements that shield teachers with substantiated cases of abuse or misconduct. Such agreements have allowed teachers to leave one job to only get hired by another oblivious district.

Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, who sponsored the bill being considered, says the law would protect school officials from lawsuits, allowing them to disclose the employment history of someone applying for a job in another district, including cases of substantiated allegations as well as pending actions against the teacher. Unsubstantiated allegations would not be shared.

“The incentives as we have it set up now encourage school districts to enter into these non-disclosure agreements and allow problem and predatory educators to move on to the next school district,” Webber said Tuesday during the Education Committee hearing.

The law, however, would only apply to districts in the state, leaving schools vulnerable to people like Sudlow who were fired from their school district but are able to cross a river and get hired in New Jersey.

Background checks not enough

In an Aug. 21, 2014, letter to the chancellor of the New York City School District, the special commissioner of investigation noted that Sudlow had “irrevocably resigned,” noting that she is "not eligible for employment.”

The letter recommended that she “continue to be denied work with the Department of Education and that this matter be considered should she apply for a position in the city school system, with one of its vendors, or in one of its facilities, in the future.”

The report — a copy of which New Jersey 101.5 obtained from the New Jersey Department of Education under the Open Public Records Act — details the investigation into Sudlow, finding that she initiated a sexual relationship with a student at Liberation Diploma Plus High School in Brooklyn in 2013.

Students told investigators that Sudlow favored the male student, buying him Starbucks and lunch every day. Phone records showed that the two had called 77 times and exchanged 184 text messages between January and May of 2014.

The student told investigators that the teacher texted him to say that she was “mad horny.” He said she picked him up at home and took him to a hotel where they had sex.

When classmates didn’t believe he was hooking up with the teacher, he showed them pictures and videos of them engaged in sexual activity, the report says.

Sudlow did not deny the accusations and refused to cooperate, the report says.

Even after the New York Post got hold of the report a year later, New Jersey officials remained clueless.

The state of New York did not revoke her teaching certificate until August 2016. And New Jersey didn't find out about that until April 2017. That’s when New Jersey regulators noticed the information on the database of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, or NASDTEC.

The NASDTEC database allows member states, school districts and private schools to find out whether a teacher has lost a license in another state. The nonprofit encourages schools to search the database even for positions that may not require certification, such as an athletic coach, because educators who lose their licenses in one state sometimes will try to apply for a non-certified job in another.

But the database doesn’t show everything.

It took years for the database to flag Sudlow even though she was banned from teaching in New York City. New Jersey finally revoked her certificate in December 2017.

Other rejects from the New York school district have landed jobs in New Jersey. An NJ.com report in December noted that two teachers who were fired in 2013 for inappropriate contact were hired by schools in New Jersey, which fired them after the New York Post published articles about their cases.

The report also detailed the case of a New Jersey teacher who has left three jobs as a result of accusations of misconduct but manages to keep getting hired, even after he appeared on the front page of The Trentonian in 2009 for an article about him being charged with showing students pornography. Those charges were eventually dropped and expunged.

NASDTEC executive director Phillip Rogers says cases that are being investigated or appealed do not appear on the database.

Rogers said the nonprofit is exploring whether to allow states to report pending actions against teachers, but not all states would allow that to happen because of laws meant to protect the due process of professionals.

New Jersey is one of those states, according to a Department of Education spokesman who said that attorneys "have advised the Department against publicly sharing details of a matter before there is action on the certificate."

School districts hiring new teachers conduct background checks of the applicants. And the state Department of Education routinely searches national databases to see whether people who hold teaching certificates have been accused or convicted of crimes.

But Rush Russell, of Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, says “just doing background checks is just incredibly ineffective.”

“The vast majority of these cases never end up being substantiated, never end up being adjudicated, never end up being convicted. A lot of these cases disappear along the way,” he said.

In Sudlow's case, she was never charged with a crime. The investigation report does not say how old the male student was, but in New York there would not be a crime if he were 18.

"Following the incident, New York did not send the matter to law enforcement," Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education, said last week. "Therefore, a criminal history background check that occurs prior to New Jersey granting certification, which identifies convictions and pending charges in State Police and FBI databases, did not reveal the offense."

Some of these cases end up being expunged as a result of plea deals, which won’t then show up on background checks.

The databases also won’t show accusations made in lawsuits.

Come to Jersey!

Perhaps as shocking as the state granting Sudlow a certificate a month after the sex-tape allegations were made public is Sudlow’s claims that she was encouraged to a apply for a job by a Newark principal.

(LinkedIn)

After the State Board of Examiners initiated proceedings against Sudlow last year, she wrote the board a letter to “explain how I ended up teaching in New Jersey.”

Sudlow says the principal of the Girls Academy of Newark encouraged her to teach at her school.

“Immediately, I fully disclosed to her what was happening in New York with the status of my teaching license and career. She encouraged me to apply for certification in Jersey, and assured me that the two entities were completely separate and that it would be fine,” she says in the letter that the board received in October.

“I was hesitant because I knew it was wrong to pursue teaching in another state, but the principal insisted that I do it, and believed I would be a perfect fit for the girls of Newark – not to mention my aching heart wanting nothing more than to be back in the classroom.”

New Jersey 101.5 obtained a copy of the letter from the Department of Education through an Open Public Records Act request.

The letter does not identify the principal by name, but public records indicate that it would have been Tanishia Lavette Williams, who is now the principal of Williamsburg Charter School in Brooklyn.

The LinkedIn profile for Williams says she was employed as an administrator in the New York City schools during the years Sudlow worked there.

Williams did not return several calls seeking comment.

Yaple, a spokesman for the Department of Education, declined to answer questions about whether the state notified Newark about Sudlow’s accusations or whether the Board of Examiners intended to investigate further.

Tracy Munford, a spokeswoman for the Newark schools, said the district could not comment on "conversations that may or may not have happened between the principal and the candidate during the interview process.”

Munford says the district requires all educators to be certified by the state and to pass criminal background check.

“In this unique case, both of these protocols were followed by the district. However, the past actions of the educator in question did not result criminal charges and therefore were not captured in a criminal record review. Both the educator in question and the principal who hired the educator are no longer with the district.”

Sudlow lost her job in Newark a few months after she was hired. It is not clear why. Her letter to the Board of Examiners says she has not worked in a classroom since.

New Jersey 101.5 was unable to reach Sudlow for comment.

Jason Fennes Somerset County Prosecutors Office

Duty to report

In New Jersey, school officials who suspect inappropriate or abusive behavior by a school employee are required to report it to the authorities, including the police or the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, which investigates child abuse.

That doesn’t always happen.

Take the case of Jason Fennes, 43, now serving a maximum 14-year sentence for molesting at least six little girls in three towns.

According to the victims’ families and a judge, school officials might have been able to stop Fennes before he raped any child.

Fennes was let go from his elementary school job in Montville in 2010, five years after district officials began taking note of his inappropriate behavior with first-grade girls, such as kissing them and holding them in his lap.

Instead of calling police or other authorities, the district allowed Fennes to resign with a clean record. They never filed tenure charges, which could have resulted in him losing his teaching credentials even if he never had been arrested or convicted.

Only after he stopped working in Montville did a 13-year-old tell authorities that Fennes had abused her when she was in the first grade.

After her story came out in the media, three more girls reported that he had abused them between 2005 and 2008.

A fifth girl said he assaulted her in 1996-97, when she was a 14-year-old at Butler High School and he was her track coach.

But the damage was not done after Fennes’ resignation. About a year later, after he had gotten hired at Cedar Hill Prep School in Franklin, he sexually assaulted a first-grade student there.

In 2016, a state appellate court held that Montville was not required to notify the school in Somerset County, but district officials did have the duty to notify authorities, including the Board of Examiners.

Miller, of SESAME, says it should be a crime for districts to “pass the trash” to other schools.

“Too many of these predators in our schools have evaded law enforcement detection because they have been passed from jurisdiction to another,” she said.

“If there is cause to not want them teaching in their school, well, they shouldn’t want them teaching in anybody else’s school, either,” Miller said. “If they are not good enough to be around their students, they’re not good enough to be around any students.”

Russell, of Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, says districts should adopt policies that prohibit "grooming" behaviors, and train officials how to spot them.

Advocates say grooming can come in the form of teachers inviting students to hang out after school, showing them sexual material, giving them special gifts.

“Sometimes they are thought to be the teacher that is cool and seen hanging out with students,” he said. “If indeed we see somebody do these things, it should be reported.”

Miller says one of the best things schools can do if they get hold of an accusation is to call police right away instead of going through an internal investigation, which she said can “taint” a potential criminal case.

“[School officials] are not investigators,” she said. “They need to turn it over under mandatory reporting laws when they suspect abuse, not when they substantiate it. It’s not their job to substantiate. It is their job to report — period. The trained investigators do a good job of questioning the victims.”

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.