New Mexico's Largest School District Under Investigation for Hiring a Sex Offender

By Michael Klazema on 8/24/2015
Typically, school district employees need to go through numerous levels of background checks before being allowed to work with children. The goal, of course, is to prevent violent criminals, sexual predators, child abusers, and other dangerous individuals from having the opportunity to prey on kids and teens, some of the most vulnerable populations out there. Unsurprisingly, then, New Mexico's Attorney General is leaping into action to investigate why his state's single largest school district hired a convicted sex offender, and who might be to blame for the incident.

According to a report from the Associated Press, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is launching an investigation into Albuquerque Public Schools, the district where the problematic hiring took place. Balderas has pledged to take a look at the district's "safety protocols," as well as at why those protocols weren't followed in the recent hiring of a new deputy superintendent.

The (now-former) deputy superintendent was hired in June, reportedly "to head the district's instruction and technology division." Without warning, the man hired to fill the position resigned in mid-August, shortly before schools in the district went back into session for the fall. Further investigation revealed that the man is currently facing six felony charges for sexually assaulting a child, as well as a domestic violence charge for a scuffle in a nightclub earlier this year. The pending charges were filed by the Denver District Attorney's Office, and the first six involve two different victims in the suspect's previous state of residence, Colorado.

A thorough background check would have flagged the pending felony charges and made it at least temporarily impossible for the suspect to get a new job in a different school district. Evidently, however, the suspect refused to complete his background check with Albuquerque Public Schools. And while the current superintendent of the district, and the man in charge of making final hiring decisions, was informed multiple times" about his applicant's unwillingness to comply with district protocols, he ultimately chose to hire the man as deputy superintendent anyway.

Many Albuquerque community members have called for the district superintendent to resign for the blunder, and Hector Balderas even called his failure to follow protocol "a horrific breach of trust for parents of APS." The Attorney General's office will now look at all recent hires at the district to make sure that the superintendent didn't willfully allow other applicants to also skip their required background checks.

The scenario is a no-win situation for Albuquerque Public Schools, who hired their superintendent (as well as the now-dismissed deputy superintendent) in June. The superintendent, a former administrator at a San Francisco school district, was selected after a national search, processes that are normally quite costly and time-consuming for districts. To keep the community happy, the district will almost have to fire the superintendent or force him to step down, and in doing so, they'll send themselves back to square one with filling the top district job.

The most pressing issue here, though, is the skipped background checks and the question of why a recently hired superintendent was willing to risk his job to skip those checks in the first place. Luckily, this all happened in the summer, and the deputy superintendent wasn't around long enough to have any contact with children. But something about this case doesn't add up: you always run background checks on employees, particularly for school-related jobs, and absolutely for applicants who make it clear they have something to hide.

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