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Teacher arrest highlights flaw

Background check had not been completed

A man arrested this week in the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old relative was hired a month ago to be a substitute teacher in the Granite School District.

Allowed to start teaching before a required criminal background check on him was completed, it turns out he has a long list of criminal offenses dating to 1990 that include charges for battery, domestic assault, providing alcohol to a minor and indecent exposure.

The district was still in the process of completing the man's background check when he was arrested, said Martin Bates, assistant to the superintendent for human resources.

"We wish the process was faster," Bates said. "We hire people and we put them to work."

The 31-year-old had been a substitute teacher in the classroom five times since being hired Feb. 1.

A criminal background check is made on all Granite District employees, Bates said. But that check usually takes between six to eight weeks. During that waiting period, a person is allowed to substitute, he said. If officials find something inappropriate in a background, the person is pulled out of the classroom immediately.

Anyone who is going to have significant and unsupervised access to children is supposed to have a background check before having access to those children, said Carol Lear, coordinator for school law and legislation for the State Office of Education. But the key words, she said, are "supposed to."

"Who is going to police that? That's the dilemma," Lear said.

The other problem is the extreme shortage of substitute teachers in the Salt Lake Valley. When faced with the choice of having an individual who seems all right vs. having no one at all, schools are going to hire the individual, Lear said.

"I don't want to sound melodramatic, but it's really hard to get a substitute," Lear said. "It's hard for me to be too critical (of the school) because I know the liability if you don't have a person there."

Philosophically, the district said it agrees that background checks should be completed before a substitute is put in the classroom. But sometimes the district can't wait.

"We cannot figure out a way to make it faster," Lear said. "That would be great, but that's just not going to happen. We're dealing with several bureaucracies."

Lear said if subs were paid more, then schools might not be at the mercy of whoever signed up.

"We need to be really active and aggressive looking for alternatives, and it's going to cost," she said.


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com