Las Vegas School District Faces Multiple Sexual Misconduct Allegations
Since July 2016, 11 employees of Nevada’s Clark County School District have been arrested based on allegations of sexual misconduct with students, per a recent report from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The newspaper theorized that the district’s employee background checks are part of the problem. The checks use multiple databases to check for criminal history but don’t always incorporate employment reference or verification checks into the equation. As a result, teachers who have been accused of misconduct at past schools but never convicted of a crime may secure work at other schools without raising red flags.
By the time a teacher is hired at Clark County School District, he or she has gone through multiple criminal background checks spanning databases “at the local, state, and national levels,” coverage notes. Terri Miller, president of Las Vegas’s Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation organization, argued that these checks create “a false sense of security.” Because of a trend widely referred to as “passing the trash,” teachers with histories of misconduct are often allowed to resign from their posts quietly rather than facing public exposure or investigation. This practice protects school districts from the reputational fallout associated with a predatory teacher or school employee, but also means that those predators retain access to underage victims, Miller claimed.
One example cited in the Las Vegas Review-Journal is Melvyn Sprowson, a former kindergarten teacher with Clark County Schools who was convicted of multiple criminal charges earlier this year. Sprowson was found guilty of misconduct with a 16-year-old girl who was a student in the school district as well as possession of child pornography and several other charges.
Sprowson had been accused of sexual misconduct at his previous school district in Los Angeles, reports note. Those allegations never led to a criminal conviction, so Sprowson’s Clark County School District background check didn’t turn up any red flags. When asked about Sprowson by the Review-Journal, officials at the Los Angeles district say they would have discussed his allegations if Clark County School representatives had reached out and asked.
The Sprowson case is still pending in court: while the former teacher has been found guilty of four criminal counts, his sentencing hearing won’t occur until June, per coverage. Clark County School District is making changes that it claims will help to make sure that similar incidents don’t occur in the future. Specifically, the district says that it has adopted new policies to contact the school districts where applicants used to work as part of the background check process. Before the Sprowson case, such a practice was not standard, reports confirm.
While going directly to the source could help Clark County Schools—and other school districts—uncover histories of sexual misconduct, it isn’t a guarantee, critics warn. Some districts are reluctant to discuss allegations that haven’t been proven in court, while others sign non-disclosure agreements with employees in exchange for quiet resignations. Pat Skorkowsky, the Superintendent of the Clark County School District, said there won’t be a foolproof way to keep abusers out of schools until there is a national law requiring school districts to report allegations of misconduct.
A bill in the Nevada State Senate would require districts to share more information about past employees. Coverage notes that the bill would only apply to Nevada schools, meaning that districts might still run into roadblocks when vetting teachers coming from outside the state.