WJTV News Channel 12 - Are background checks enough for Florida teachers?

Are background checks enough for Florida teachers?

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In an effort to weed out potential perverts, Florida law requires fingerprinting and criminal background checks before school districts hire employees that will have any contact with children.

Fingerprints of job candidates are run through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's database as well as the FBI's. However, there's a hole in the system.

Lakeland police arrested the 29-year-old Jennifer Fichter, an English teacher, on Monday for having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student in Polk County.

Prior to that, Fichter left a teaching job in Orange County amid allegations of inappropriate contact with a student

According to Marian Lambeth, of the Florida Department of Education, the D.O.E. requires school districts to report such allegations. The state will conduct its own investigation and may decide to flag the teacher's license. However, Orange County did not notify the state.

Central Florida Aerospace Academy hired Fichter. She was arrested this week.

Debra LaFave, a Greco Middle School teacher, Christina Butler, a Middleton High School teacher and Stephanie Ragusa, a Davidsen Middle School teacher all have something in common with Jennifer Fichter.

Each of them passed background checks to work in schools with children

The background checks help stop school districts from hiring known sexual offenders. They cannot predict who will become one.

According to Lambeth, a database informs school districts if any of their teachers are arrested anywhere in Florida.

"Since 2004 the fingerprint records of Florida district employees have been retained by FDLE, so if a person is arrested in the state of Florida, the district that requested that fingerprint record should receive an arrest notification from the Department of Law Enforcement," Lambeth said.

However, Florida teacher arrests can go unseen they are busted out of state.

Teachers arrested out of state may go undetected for a while. FBI background checks are performed once every five years during teacher re-certification.

The state does not require moral character checks. Even if it did, predicting who crosses the line is no sure thing.

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.


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