The D.C. school system has no record in its personnel files that a former social worker at the Bundy school for emotionally disturbed children was convicted in June after having sex with students and paying them $10 to $20 to pose for nude photographs.
"I wish we would have known about the conviction," school system counsel George Margolies said of social worker Robert M. Rhymes, 47, who worked at Bundy from 1978 to 1981 and is now on a three-year probation following his guilty plea to two felony counts of indecent liberties with a minor.
"There should be no chance that he could get rehired," Margolies said. "There should be a red flag for the future."
Across the country, school systems, day care centers and other child care agencies are grappling with the problem of how to avoid hiring child abusers and molesters as well as discovering whether their current employes have such problems.
In Fairfax County, school officials may begin background checks on all 13,000 current school employes as well as job applicants in the wake of a case involving psychologist Arthur S. Pomerantz, 46, who was charged last month with aggravated sexual battery of a school-age boy. Coworkers said they first voiced suspicions to superiors about Pomerantz 10 years ago. He was put on administrative leave twice but returned to the school system in 1981 to counsel troubled youths before being forced to resign last year.
The District does not routinely run background checks on school employes other than security aides, according to school spokeswoman Janice Cromer.
According to court records in the Rhymes case, detectives from the D.C. sex squad showed photographs of nude youths found in Rhymes' apartment to Marline Arline, then principal of Bundy school, in 1983.
Arline said she did not follow the case after the detectives left because Rhymes was no longer working there. He had resigned in October 1981, according to school records, because federal cutbacks had eliminated his job.
"I was very shocked," Arline said of the photographs, which she said included "about four or five" boys, all but one Bundy students. "I wasn't contacted as a witness . . . . No one got back to me."
Arline did ask Margolies if she should cooperate with the detectives, but Margolies said he was not given details of the case. "I don't recall that Marline told me that it involved a teacher," he said. "If I had been told there was a teacher involved, I would have told someone else."
Police officials said they do not have the time to notify interested parties about the outcome of cases.
The lack of follow-up meant that the school system's personnel, security and legal files have no record of Rhymes' arrest or conviction. School spokeswoman Cromer said this could present problems if he sought another job with the District or listed the District as a reference for other jobs.
At the time of his arrest, Rhymes said he was unemployed. After he left the Bundy school, he worked as a consultant for six months at a Washington firm that serves mentally retarded adults, according to court records.
In addition to one-to-three-year jail sentences on each count, which were suspended, Rhymes was sentenced to perform 250 hours of community service in the past year. Jim Lynch, deputy executive officer of the D.C. courts, said all probation records are closed, and the courts would not reveal the type of work he performed and whether the conditions of probation -- which prohibit him from professional contact with males under 18 -- are being met.
Rhymes could not be reached for comment. Retna Pullings, his court-appointed attorney, said she would have no comment. According to court documents, the D.C. police have no record of any prior arrest of Rhymes. A presentence report noted that he was in a treatment program.
As a result of concerns about the school system's record-keeping, Superintendent Floretta McKenzie asked last week that a committee be formed to study ways to improve personnel record keeping, as well as to research the need for a bill pending before the City Council that would require background checks for teachers, other school staff and employes of day care centers, foster care homes, recreation programs, camps and detention centers.
"We are putting together representatives from the personnel, legal counsel and security office to look into this," Cromer said.
The proposed bill, the Child Abuse and Protection Act of 1985, introduced by City Council member John Wilson, is pending before the Committee on the Judiciary.
Harold Fisher Jr., president of the 5,000-member Washington Teachers Union, said his union plans to examine the bill "closely in terms of the privacy of the individual."
A 1977 District law and a 1980 directive to all school employes require those who know about child abuse to report it. School employes must notify their principal or face a $100 fine or 30 days in jail.
A statement released by the D.C. chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, which dropped Rhymes from membership recently after a hearing, noted that "other" people had asked Rhymes to discontinue his sexual activities before his arrest, but they were unsuccessful. The charges brought by the U.S. attorney cover Rhymes' activities with minors in 1979, 1980 and 1981.
Arline said no one reported these requests to her.
The committee, whose members have not yet been chosen, will advise the superintendent on how to track possible convictions of D.C. school personnel, as well as determine the need for more comprehensive background checks before people are hired, Cromer said.