Teachers may come under closer scrutiny - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Teachers may come under closer scrutiny

January 26, 2005

Albany-- Michael Lewis is suspended for manhandling a student, but it's not the first time he's a brush with the law. Lewis had been arrested before, and so had another Radium Springs Middle School teacher arrested last week.

Now, schools leaders are considering conducting more frequent background checks on teachers to keep criminals out of the classroom.

Under Georgia law, background checks are done every five years on all certified teachers, and non-certified employees.

But the recent teacher arrests raise the question-- is five years often enough?

Radium Springs Middle School teacher Michael Lewis, was arrested for simple battery, and another Radium Springs Middle School teacher, Regina Mitchell, resigned after being charged with stealing band instruments from students and pawning them. She also had a record.

Now Roberto Ruiz, a foreign language teacher at Monroe High School was suspended for 60 days without pay. He, too, has made repeat trips to jail.

So why are accused criminals teaching our children? "On a five year cycle, we are to ensure that certified staff members are sent through another fingerprint or background check," says Dougherty Co. Superintendent Dr. Sally Whatley.

But apparently that isn't enough. "Often time during the interim, if an employee is arrested or charged with something, unless the law enforcement agencies bring it to our attention, we won't know, " Whatley says.

So the board is considering a new policy that will require employees to report any arrests immediately. And they are also considering performing background checks more often. "Rather than leaving that five year increment, we're looking to reducing that to maybe two or three years," Whatley says.

And Whatley wants students, staff and parents to know, the school board is doing everything possible to ensure the integrity of the system. "It's important to do everything that we can to ensure the public and to show that we are the true professionals that we are," said the Superintendent.

The School Board is also considering expanding the database of background checks from Georgia to a national database. None of these steps will be implemented immediately.

The School Board must first check to see if these actions will even be legal, then vote on the changes.

posted at 5:45PM by dave.miller@walb.com