School officials vow to check volunteers more closely
Published: February 23, 2011
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A Charlotte Amalie High School volunteer was charged with unlawful sexual contact last week at the school gym and police records showed it was not the first time the man had been charged with such crimes - and not even the first time he was accused of sexual crimes against a minor in that gym.
The revelation that Charlotte Amalie High School allowed a man who was twice charged in connection with sexual crimes against minors to work in the facility where he was accused of fondling a female student in 2002 prompted the St. Thomas-St. John school district to change its volunteer policy, said District School Superintendent Jeanette Smith-Barry.
"This has certainly caused us to be a lot more vigilant and a lot more particular about the persons we allow to be on our campuses," Smith-Barry said. "We do now have to be sure that we have to restrict that a whole lot more."
The district had no requirement that long-term volunteers go through any kind of background checks, Smith-Barry said.
"That's why we are saying, now, if there's going to be any extended period of time that this person is going to be volunteering, then we are going to have to do all that - going through the Division of Human Resources, where background checks are done."
A similar issue came to a head earlier in the decade on St. Croix, when a teacher left one public school amid unlawful sexual contact allegations and went on to teach at another public school, where even more allegations arose.
V.I. Education Commissioner La Verne Terry was unavailable to discuss why there was no territorywide policy on the matter.
Putting school volunteers through a vetting process has been the procedure in the St. Croix district since Gary Molloy became the St. Croix School superintendent about three years ago, Molloy said.
"I've had something in place in this district for a while," Molloy said. "Anyone who the principals want to volunteer has to go through the Division of Personnel and have a background check."
The issue came to the forefront on St, Thomas Feb. 12, after a 14-year-old boy told his mother that 57-year-old Keith Francis sexually assaulted him in the Charlotte Amalie High School gym's faculty room, according to police. The boy was playing basketball in the gym early on a Saturday night - a basketball league was scheduled to play - when the boy went and asked Francis, a volunteer, when the game was going to start.
Francis closed the door behind the boy and began to molest him, groping his genitals and attempting to pull down the boy's pants, police said. The boy fought Francis off and later identified him to police.
Francis was arrested in February 2003 on two separate but similar charges.
In one incident, police said Francis fondled a girl in the Charlotte Amalie High School gym, then exposed himself to her and offered her money. He was charged with unlawful sexual contact in connection with the incident.
In the other incident, police said Francis repeatedly raped a minor, beginning in 1996. Francis was charged with first-degree rape.
Francis volunteered at the high school's Physical Education Department for years and was given access and keys to the gym, Smith-Barry said. He used to drive teams to sporting events, coordinate community activities in the gym and help clean up after events, she said.
"He has been there working alongside those teachers in that department for a while," Smith-Barry said. "I don't know of any report being made or expressions of concern. That would have been enough for us to do something about it."
The department's chairman, Myron Corbett, said Francis will "not be allowed at the school."
There was no record that Francis was convicted in either earlier case. Still, the allegations should be sufficient to bar such people from volunteering with minors, Smith-Barry said.
"We're very disappointed and disturbed by this recent arrest," she said. "We should never have this kind of thing happening. Even though there was no conviction, we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure student safety."
"If there were, indeed, a series of allegations - even if it hadn't resulted in a conviction - then, yeah, that's enough for us to say to the schools, 'Well, maybe this is someone we need to keep off the school campuses,'" she said.
On St. Croix, Tydel John, who was 57 when last arrested in 2009, had a series of allegations at three schools, according to police. But that did not prevent him from moving from school to school, sexually molesting about 10 girls in that period.
John first worked at Good Hope School, a private school, until he left after 2002. Police only later discovered John may have molested three girls between 2001 and 2002 - though no charges ever were filed while he taught there.
He then went to Eulalie Rivera Elementary School, where complaints against him arose. After that, he gained employment at Evelyn Williams Elementary before allegations from six girls forced him out of the public school system.
He was arrested in December 2007 and charged with five counts of unlawful sexual contact.
Molloy became district superintendent shortly after John's arrest.
On St. Croix, any long-term volunteer at a school is supposed to be evaluated by the department's Division of Human Resources before taking on any responsibilities, Molloy said.
"We make sure that the volunteers go through HR," he said. "So, whatever screening HR would do, I would expect that to be in place before that person is a full-time volunteer in our schools."
While some interested volunteers are scared off by the process, it ensures that the volunteers are safe, he said.
"Some people don't want to go through the background check," he said. "Some people pull out of the process."
A major part of the schools' safety system is the reporting of school monitors, Molloy said.
"They're our internal police force, if you will," Molloy said. "They get familiar with the children and who picks up, who drops off."
"Our monitors are our first line of defense," he said.
This is another area where the St. Croix district seems to have taken preventative measures beyond those in St. Thomas-St. John.
According to Molloy, his district employs just fewer than 60 school monitors at its schools - all distributed by school population. Each high school has about 10 monitors, the junior highs have anywhere from four to seven monitors, and the elementary schools each employ anywhere from one to two monitors, he said.
Smith-Barry said her district employs less than half the number of school monitors - about 28 - who are distributed between the high schools and junior highs.
Smith-Barry said they are aware of the issues and continue to work to strengthen their security procedures.
- Contact Daniel Shea at 774-8772 ext. 457 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.