How effective are background checks on teachers in North Carolina and what can be done to strengthen them?
That’s the question we’re asking.
Last week’s article, Teacher Arrests: A Quiet Epidemic, covered the last six months of trends in teacher arrests.
Those arrests covered a wide range of charges, but the majority were for sexual contact with students.
Also reported was the failing grade North Carolina received in a USA Today report for background checks on educators.
One case was highlighted in the previous report, that of Robert Woodard in Chatham County Schools. Woodard was arrested on 33 various counts, yet allegedly passed a background check.
American Lens has issued a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Chatham County Public Schools for more information on Woodard.
Slipping Through Background Checks
In districts who already do background checks, it appears there is an area not being included: Child Protective Service Orders.
In certain instances, there appears to have been deals made with Child Protective Services which have obscured arrests from employers and background checks.
The following is a case study illustrating how one teacher has slipped through the cracks.
Some of the names and locations have been changed, as the case is currently ongoing. However, the current county where litigation is taking place is being left in the record unchanged. This case is transpiring in Chatham county – the same county as the Robert Woodard case.
American Lens has viewed the litigation documents and has based this case study on that documentation.
Jane Doe – The History
In the late 1990’s, 18-year-old Jane Doe had her first child; a girl we will identify as ‘Baby K’. Around that same time, Jane also was attending college and was using drugs – cocaine and crack in particular.
Jane drops out of school at some point, after allegedly using student loan funds to buy drugs.
In 2000, Baby K’s father’s parents had learned of Jane’s drug use and contacted Child Protective Services (CPS) concerned over their granddaughter’s well-being.
The child is removed from the home approximately within the next two years. Around the same time period, Jane is required to enter a drug rehabilitation center.
When Jane is released, CPS requires an intervention period which consists of drug tests and home visits both random and scheduled.
Between the years of 2003 and 2005, co-workers witnessed her heavy use of crack and cocaine.
Jane would brag to co-workers where she worked that she was faking the CPS drug tests. Jane had started keeping other people’s urine in her home bathroom to give to the CPS agent.
The agent had been allowing her to take the test in a closed bathroom.
During this same span of two to three years, Jane frequently obtained crack and cocaine by sleeping with a drug dealer in exchange for the drugs.
In 2003, Jane is forced to relinquish custody of Baby K permanently after she fails a drug test and an incident involving injury to Baby K caused by her drug use.
In 2004, Jane Doe’s parental rights are terminated and Baby K’s grandparents formally adopt her.
Jane Doe Has a Second Child
During late 2004 Jane becomes pregnant by a co-worker but was still dating a long-term girlfriend. Jane moves in with the father/co-worker, who hopes to get Jane off drugs in order for the child to be born.
In 2005, Jane gives birth to a second daughter we will identify as ‘Baby L’. Jane has relapsed and is using drugs again.
Baby L’s father assumes the role of primary caregiver and parent. Four years pass by and the father has had enough; he gets Jane to finally move out by paying off her credit card debts.
Hired By A North Carolina School District
Between 2005 and 2007, Jane has completed her coursework for a degree in education.
In 2007, Jane is employed in a North Carolina school district. She stays in that district until June 2011, teaching children in the 6th and 8th grades.
While employed as a teacher, Jane enters into a relationship in 2010 with a man who also happens to be a heroin addict and has recently been paroled.
Jane’s new love interest is a repeat felon, who has spent most of his adult life in prison, has a wrap sheet 40 pages long, including crimes for killing a man in prison.
Jane hides the relationship, which continues on and off for several years, from Baby L’s Father and her parents.
In August 2011, Jane is hired in another North Carolina School district teaching 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies. Jane Doe is still currently employed in this district.
Jane has also worked part-time in a “Kinder-Care” daycare facility since 2009 and is allegedly still doing so.
In 2016, Jane filed to gain part-time custody of Baby L. This action set of a chain of legal inquiries and actions which are the basis for most of this article.
What Did The School District Know And When?
Through depositions, FOIA’s and other legal avenues, it was revealed that Jane Doe had told Chatham County school officials in August of 2016 that she, “entered a rehabilitation program in 2000, and [she] last used drugs in 2003.”
In light of uncovered evidence, this statement by Doe appears to be false.
Court documents record Jane Doe made a sworn statement about marijuana use from 2007-2011 and admitted to use of narcotics. Heroine is an example of a narcotic. Marijuana, crack and cocaine are not classified as narcotics.
In a meeting with school officials in August 2016, Jane Doe volunteered to take a drug test.
Seven days after that meeting, Chatham County Public Schools ordered a drug test for Jane at the beginning of September 2016. The district gave her a week’s notice that she would be tested.
It should be noted that crack and cocaine only show up in urine test results for approximately 2-5 days.
Hair follicle testing is required to test for drug use over a longer period. The test administered to Doe was a urine test.
The test came back ‘normal’.
Second Drug Test Administered
Doe was given another drug test in November 2016.
Chatham Human Resources said that they didn’t know about the second test. It is unclear who required it, but a likely guess is Doe’s alternate employer – the daycare center.
Those test results showed “Abnormal” Creatinine, which are chemical waste levels produced by the kidneys and are used to assess the validity of a urine specimen for drug testing. The concentrations of these levels are set forth in federal regulations.
Jane’s “abnormal” reading showed that her sample was not accurate.
This reading is indicative that an individual has “beat the test” by drinking excessive fluid (2-4 liters within a few hours of the test) in an effort to flush drugs from their system.
To date, Jane has received no disciplinary actions from the school district and suffered no monetary harm.
Unrelated to the school district, a background check was performed on Jane Doe in November 2016 for work related to the daycare facility.
That background check did not report an outstanding warrant for Doe, which had been in the system since October 2016.
Jane Doe Alerted To CPS Inquiries
In November 2016, Jane Doe files a lawsuit against the tipster that alerted school officials to her past history with CPS and past drug use seeking $250,000 in damages.
The tipster had knowledge of Jane’s past and was concerned that individuals subject to a CPS order could teach in NC schools – something that laws prevent in over 30 other states.
In an effort to understand the application process, and whether the process was flawed or Jane had just lied during her hiring process, the tipster started making inquiries as to both.
The tipster had questioned and reported to the principal of Jane’s school originally in July of 2016.
No action was taken by the school to confirm or dismiss the caller’s allegations.
The same tipster submitted a FOIA request to Chatham County in mid-August and followed up about a week later on the request with the Superintendent of Human Resources.
During that follow-up, the tipster again reported the same information regarding Jane’s past history with CPS and drug use as the cause for the tipster’s concern about the current state of teacher and staff application processes and background checks.
Human Resources pressed the tipster for any information they may have about current drug use, but the tipster was not in a position to provide such information.
It was only after this call that Jane was notified that there was some concern about her history of drug use and a CPS order.
Background Checks and CPS
Through the two phone calls and the FOIA request, the tipster learns that Chatham County has no questions on its application seeking information on former drug use other than admission of arrests/convictions.
Chatham County doesn’t ask about CPS orders, interventions, or records of its applicants.
North Carolina background checks do not include a requirement for inquiring about CPS orders from applicants.
A North Carolina statute under the juvenile justice rules prevents the public from requesting a copy of a CPS order (to protect the privacy of the victim child), with some limited exceptions.
There is no exception to the statute for purposes of public school review during the hiring process or during the employment, of a school employee. However, nothing prevents the schools from asking a candidate or employee if a CPS order exists, nor are they prevented from asking the candidate to request and produce the CPS order.
In the next installment, American Lens will examine how the district’s attempts to keep this case quiet, despite Jane Doe’s abnormal drug test results and being made aware of her past issues with drugs.