Much controversy has recently surrounded Prime Prep Academy, the Texas-based charter school that NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders helped found in 2012. On numerous occasions, Sanders has been fired and reinstated at the school for questions related to his professional conduct, including an alleged assault against another employee. Now, it appears that the charter school – which has campuses in both Dallas and Fort Worth – is coming under fire once more for failing to run background checks on its employees, Sanders among them.
Revealed initially in a brief report from the Associated Press and expanded upon by a more in-depth article published by the Dallas News, the woes surrounding Prime Prep Academy involve serious security oversights that could have easily exposed the school’s students to dangerous criminals. According to an audit by the TEA (Texas Education Agency), the school failed to acquire fingerprint scans and run comprehensive criminal and sex offender background checks on 17 of its employees. One of the figures left unscreened was Deion Sanders himself, who, despite his high-profile media position and football fame, is just as beholden to Texas education laws as anybody else.
The missing background checks underline a series of problems that have faced Prime Prep, which has quickly gained a nationwide reputation as a troubled institution hindered by a power struggle at its core. Sanders was first fired from the school in October, but Prime Prep rescinded the decision mere hours later. In December, he was canned again by the school’s then superintendent, Rachel King-Sanders (no relation). At the time, Prime Prep’s board chairman T. Christopher Lewis was quoted as saying that he neither approved nor agreed with King-Sanders’ decision. Lewis also called Deion Sanders “a significant asset to the school.”
Shortly after Lewis made those comments, Superintendent King-Sanders herself was ousted from Prime Prep Academy and Deion Sanders was reinstated once more. Ron Price, the school’s superintendent, has made significant steps toward restructuring Prime Prep Academy and eliminating the school’s rampant hiring, firing, resignation, and overall staff turnover problems. Price said that all of the staff upheaval has lead to delays in Prime Prep’s background check timeliness, but he also stated that he had corrected the problem and made sure that the school had all necessary background check reports on file.
Whether or not Price has indeed rectified the issue remains to be seen. However, even if Prime Prep Academy has now completed the 17 missing background investigations, that doesn’t mean the issue will be entirely swept under the rug. The Texas Education Agency also noted that Rachel King-Sanders had signed a pair of compliance forms – one in April of 2013 and a second in November – alleging that the school was entirely secure and that all background checks had been properly conducted and placed on record. King-Sanders could face serious legal problems for those compliance forms, from fraud to endangerment of students. As of yet, however, no charges have been levied against the former superintendent.
In 2007, the State of Texas passed a law that required most educators and other school employees – including teachers, substitute teachers and aides, contract employees who have direct contact with students, and all charter school employees – to undergo nationwide fingerprint background checks. Numerous other employees – including volunteers and students teachers – are not required to submit to fingerprint checks, but still must pass a name-based background check prior to employment. The name-based checks are similar to services offered by backgroundchecks.com, such as US OneSEARCH, an instant nationwide criminal database search that peruses 450 million criminal records in all American states and territories.