- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

The Options Public Charter School on Capitol Hill fired its principal last week, after authorities learned that he had been arrested several times on theft, fraud and drug charges, and that he had served time in federal prison. The principal’s arrest record went unnoticed because of insufficient background checks. Earlier this year, parents and lawmakers lambasted D.C. Public Schools for hiring an athletic coach whose name and photograph were listed on a registry for child sex offenders. Authorities cited insufficient background checks as the culprit. It’s easy to blame the slow-churning bureaucracy and simply say “the system” failed to do its job. So, why now should parents believe that the school board will fix the problem by handling all charter school resumes and background checks? Such changes will not necessarily keep predators out of schools.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to scrutinize the resumes and police records of teachers, coaches and principals. But in a world in which child-sex offenders and other perverts depend on bureaucratic foul-ups to sneak inside schools and gymnasiums to prey on children, criminal background checks are as important — indeed more so — than a coach’s knowledge of Xs and Os.

Reginald Robinson Jr., for example, became a track and basketball coach at two D.C. schools. This, after he pleaded guilty in 2001 to a sex offense involving a 14-year-old girl in Prince George’s County, which led to his listing on Maryland’s online child-sex offender registry. But school authorities’ incompetence grows clearer. In February 2002, a father complained about Mr. Robinson’s behavior, but to no avail; he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Then, in February of this year, two female students claimed that Mr. Robinson made untoward advances. Charged and arrested in that case, he pleaded not guilty. Had a background check been conducted, school officials probably would have uncovered yet another vital piece of information: D.C. school authorities had stamped “Do Not Rehire” on Mr. Robinson’s personnel folder. That’s right. The school “system” fired him in 1994 because of an earlier conviction of sex charges.

Should parents again trust the “system?” To be sure, the management of Options Charter School didn’t do a thorough job of checking out its principal. Yet, DCPS authorities aren’t doing a good job either. And forcing charter schools to turn over personnel documents to the public system could lead to a witch hunt and may mean charter schools lose their independence.

The goal of any pertinent policy changes must strike a balance between keeping students safe and granting principals and charter schools the independence needed to run their schools. Pushing more paperwork into the hands of a failed security system will not weed out — and keep out — the predators. School and law-enforcement authorities need to rethink this one.

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