New Rochelle School District Considers Enhanced Background Checks in Wake of Revelations that Former Administrator has Extensive Criminal Record

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FredSmith.jpgNEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The City School District of New Rochelle is exploring the possibility of enhanced background checks for employees following revelations that a former senior-level administrator was hired in three local school districts despite an extensive criminal history and a background review by the New York State Education Department.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff tells Talk of the Sound that he has met with Joe Williams, Assistant to the Superintendent for Human Resources, and Jeff Kehl, General Counsel for the District.

Freddie Dean Smith was hired by the New Rochelle Board of Education as Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services and Special Education in 2005 following a two-year stint as an elementary school principal in White Plains.

"We are seeking to determine whether the background checks required by NYS are adequate enough so that we feel our children are safe around employees given such clearance," said Korostoff.

Korostoff said the District has reached out to other Districts to learn whether their communities are requiring a more extensive background review.

Bart Zabin Chief Investigator for the New York State Education Department Office of School Personnel and Accountability, provided the District the following information:

OSPRA checks both New York State and federal criminal convictions databases, and the federal database includes conviction information collected from all 50 states. The databases do not pick up arrests where there has been no conviction.

In reviewing the federal database, there are times when the disposition of a crime is unclear, and if OSPRA considers the underlying offense to be germane to whether or not a prospective employee should be cleared, they follow up to get the details.

In determining whether or not to grant a clearance, OSPRA considers the factors prescribed by the New York Corrections Law (which essentially says that the mere fact of a conviction is not an automatic disqualification for employment, and that employers are supposed to follow a specified analytical process for assessing the impact of a conviction before deciding not to hire a candidate for employment). Accordingly, there will be instances where a prospective school employee has a criminal conviction history, but will be cleared by OSPRA for employment based on such factors as the nature of the offense, the passage of time, or evidence of rehabilitation.

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