Teacher Background Checks are becoming more vital in today's volatile world. MSA Investigations' Director of Investigative Due Diligence and former longtime FBI Special Agent Neil Moran's tale from the field illustrates why.
Notes from the Field
How do you think you would react as the assistant principal of a parochial elementary school if one day there was a knock on the door from a well-groomed man in his 50s wearing the uniform of a vice admiral in the United States Navy, looking for a position as a teacher? Even though there was no posting for an open teaching position and the man had no references or known reason for selecting your school, he presented himself as a consummate professional and within several minutes had captivated the attention of school officials with his charismatic manner. In this instance, is a background check really necessary? After all, the individual has already demonstrated allegiance to his country, never mind the fact that he humbly appeared at your door ready and willing to work.
Parochial school teachers are notoriously low paid with their private and public school counterparts. In addition, teachers affiliated with a religious institution, at least in New York, where this scenario occurred, do not have to be licensed or have the same teaching credentials as in public of private schools. So, the mere thought of having a vice admiral retired from the U.S. Navy as a member of your staff would add considerable credibility and stature. Is it possible that the judgment of school officials speaking with the man made them somewhat "star struck," with this larger-than-life figure and overlooked potential "red flags," including how and why the man selected their school and moreover, why a retired senior U.S. Navy officer was parading around New York City seeking a job by knocking on the school door with his active duty uniform. This is the set of circumstances with which I was presented as an FBI Special Agent during the early 1980s when I was assigned to a possible "Impersonation" of a naval officer matter.
When my partner and I arrived on the scene in the Bronx we were greeted warmly by school officials. Both of us had been educated in parochial schools and were raised in New York City, which appeared to provide a measure of comfort to school administrators.
As they went over the story step-by-step starting with the man's unexpected arrival, we both began to wonder, "Did these folks hire this guy on the spot without having performed a background investigation?" We soon had our answer, "Yes." The story developed as red-faced and clearly embarrassed officials showed us pictures of the man who embraced the school and the parish community as a whole to the point where he had been honored as the "man of the year" and had been feted at the annual gala parish ball. Photos of the man giving his acceptance speech adorned the principal's office. "Did you folks do your due diligence and perform a background investigation?" we asked. The response, which was shocking to us was, "No."
As we pressed on for further details, we clearly had the sense that behind all of this school administrators were not forthcoming on all of the details and we soon discoverd why. They clearly felt foolish having been so captivated and endeared by the man upon meeting him that they failed to exercise sound judgment in ensuring that he would be exposed to young children and, regardless of his prior military career, should be thoroughly vetted. And then the bomshell dropped.
Among the many parish sponsored activities in which the man exhibited an interest was the Boy Scout troop, which included weekend trips to area campsites. The Boy Scouts have had a number of similar child abuse problems in recent months and years, as news sources report. Several young male scout members, who were also parish members and students, had come forward and informed their parents that the man had sexually molested them on several of the camping outings. The man, having realized that the parish community was aware of what had occurred departed the school suddenly and without explanation.
Although the man was arrested and prosecuted at a later date, this is a situation which should never have occurred. Imagine that school officials never confirmed that the man had retired from the U.S. Navy, which the FBI later determined that he never spent a day in military service. Also imagine that on the man's word the school hired him for a position of trust where he was exposed to children without first conducting a background investigation, which would have revealed that the man had no college degree.
Another lesson learned, no matter what the scenario or circumstances, if it's too good to be true it probably is. More importantly, would you buy a car without having a qualified mechanic look at it? Or purchase a home without having a professional engineer perform a thorough examination? So why would anyone hire a total stranger, no matter how impressive he or she may be on the surface for any position of trust without a complete background investigation?
Teacher background checks and pre-employment screening are necessary means to raise awareness and help enforce laws that protect children from abuse.
Email Neil Moran to learn more about MSA Investigations' background investigations services.
(Image Credit: Reuters News)