Superintendent: CCSD background check system broken - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU


Superintendent: CCSD background check system broken

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Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky talks about the challenges of conducting background checks on potential employees. (FOX5) Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky talks about the challenges of conducting background checks on potential employees. (FOX5)
Melvyn Sprowson made his initial appearance in court through video feed on Nov. 6, 2013. (FOX5) Melvyn Sprowson made his initial appearance in court through video feed on Nov. 6, 2013. (FOX5)

The case of former kindergarten teacher Melvyn Sprowson has raised questions about how stringent the Clark County School District's background checks are.

Sprowson, 45, is accused of kidnapping a runaway teen, as well as directing her to take nude photos on her cell phone. Following that, it came to light that Sprowson had been investigated in Los Angeles for sexually abusing students.

Now, Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky is addressing the district's hiring practices. It's a system the district admits is broken.

In March, school officials will begin hiring 1,800 teachers for the 2014-15 school year.

"We are extremely sorry that the students were put in this situation. We don't want any child out of all 315,993 students – we don't want any student to be put in that situation. We have to be better," Skorkowsky said.

In California, Sprowson settled out of court and was never charged.

Skorkowsky told FOX5 that Sprowson passed a background check by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, submitted to a state-required FBI fingerprint check and that his professional references gave him high marks.

The problems was, according to Skorkowsky, Sprowson lied on his application, providing false references and phone numbers.

"We hired 2,204 teachers to date. When you are trying to hire the teachers in the month of July, schools are not always open, so we have to get a hold of these references for verifications, and oftentimes people will list a cell phone number as well," Skorkowsky said.

FOX5 checked Los Angeles County Superior Court's website for civil lawsuits. Ten minutes and $12 later, a lawsuit against Sprowson and the Los Angeles Unified School District turned up. It involved allegations of unlawful sex acts with a minor, all public record.

"Anytime there are red flags and it's not something we can pinpoint, that may be a procedure we need to look at. I'm not opposed to looking at that, but I also have to be realistic about the cost involved and making sure I have time to do that," Skorkowsky said.

William Cage owns the Las Vegas-based Safe-Screen, a company that performs background checks. He said he was not surprised Sprowson got hired in Clark County because FBI checks will only turn up certain records.

"Because of the nature of the beast, there is no one source for all criminal records in the nation," Cage said.

Because Sprowson was never arrested in Los Angeles, he was never fingerprinted.

Cage said he's aware of more stringent background checks for positions that don't require employees to be around children.

"I'm aware of carpet cleaners or home repair technicians, people in those kinds of situations [who are subject to stricter background checks]. Again, you are sending your employee into someone's home," he said.

Skorkowsky said that it is difficult to budget for more thorough backgrounds checks, especially in light of the fact that the district may receive as many as 5,000 applications from around the county in a given hiring period.

For parents, though, the district can't spend enough on safety.

"He [Sprowson] should have been suspended before and never ever hired as a teacher," parent Wanda Hoves said.

"Imagine if it was your kid. What would you do? Wouldn't you want the better background check? Wouldn't you want the extra steps to make sure your kid's safety is ensured?" parent Jimmy Talamantez asked.

Skorkowsky said he is listening to parents and insisted the district has adopted better training procedures in order to detect red flags. He said that includes a tougher vetting of references and even enlisting the aid of attorneys who specialize in criminal law.

"I would say we are doing everything we can to prevent this situation from happening again," Skorkowsky said.

The district now asks a potential hire's previous employer if he or she has ever been put on administrative leave or assigned to home. Still, many employers can only reveal so much because of liability concerns.

The school district said no one has faced disciplinary action for Sprowson's hiring.

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