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More than 30% of D.C. school employees have lapsed background checks, review finds

Lewis D. Ferebee, the chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, has vowed to ensure that all employees have updated background checks by October.
Lewis D. Ferebee, the chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, has vowed to ensure that all employees have updated background checks by October. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

More than 30 percent of D.C. Public Schools employees have lapsed background checks, according to findings from an internal city review released this week.

Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee informed parents about the findings in a letter Wednesday as he vowed to establish more robust procedures and training to prevent incidents of sexual abuse on campuses.

The District launched the internal review in June after allegations emerged that an employee at a private company that operates before- and after-school programs on eight campuses allegedly kissed and fondled a 13-year-old student on multiple occasions.

The District said it found that the company, Springboard Education, did not conduct proper background checks of its employees. Ferebee said the school system has terminated its relationship with Springboard.

“There is a greater sense of safety when these types of checks have been completed,” Ferebee said. “As a parent, obviously you want to know these types of things and you want to know what the district is doing to take corrective action.”

Mark Freidberg, the chief executive of Springboard, wrote in an email that the company is updating its background checks and implementing new training for its current employees.

Freidberg said the 13-year-old student in the alleged incident was neither a Springboard student nor in the program’s care. Springboard also operates programs in charter schools in the District.

“We are making a deep and strong commitment to ensuring the quality of Springboard staff and the safety of the students entrusted to our care,” Freidberg wrote.

D.C. Public Schools requires all employees to update their background checks every two years. Ferebee noted that even if a school employee has an expired background check, that worker had to undergo an FBI background check and fingerprinting before being hired.

Ferebee said by the start of the academic year late this month, he expects 100 percent of after-school staff and outside providers to have updated background checks. By the end of September, every D.C. Public School employee working with students on campuses should have a current background check.

And by the end of October, every person employed at the school system’s headquarters should be compliant with background check requirements.

Ferebee said the school system has purchased additional fingerprinting equipment and dedicated more employees to ensuring that background checks are completed expeditiously.

“This is one of the many regulations that we have, and when you have these type of regulations, ultimately, the administration is responsible for enforcing them,” Ferebee said. “It is clear we have not.”

Under the revamped procedures, employees will be notified two months in advance that their security clearances are set to expire and that they could face disciplinary procedures if they fail to renew.

The chancellor met with a few dozen parents Tuesday evening at Capitol Hill Montessori @ Logan — the school in Northeast Washington where a Springboard employee is alleged to have assaulted a student in May.

Parents have blasted the school system for failing to properly communicate the allegations with them, and Ferebee said he hoped to build trust and act transparently.

Denise Krepp, an advisory neighborhood commissioner whose constituents attend Capitol Hill Montessori, attended Tuesday’s meeting and said she found the results of the internal review to be alarming. Krepp has been pushing for city leaders to share more information about the number of sexual assaults on campuses in the past five years. Krepp’s two children previously attended Springboard programs.

“If you don’t know that your folks lack background checks, what else don’t you know?” Krepp said. “We’re talking about children.”

Ferebee said principals have received training this summer on how to identify and report possible abuse. He said the school system is also updating its safety curriculum for students, providing children with age-specific lessons on how to detect when an adult is acting inappropriately.

“As we work to build trust, I will continue to be transparent with our community about our successes as well as our challenges as a district,” Ferebee wrote in a letter to families.

In the past few years, D.C. police have responded to some sexual abuse allegations on school campuses, although not all of the campuses are part of the traditional public school system. In 2018, a security guard at Anacostia High was charged with first-degree sexual abuse of a minor on campus. Leaders of Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School were fired after they failed to ensure the safety of students after educators raised concerns about inappropriate behavior by a teacher who was accused of sexual contact with several students.

And families at the Washington Hebrew Congregation preschool are suing the school, alleging that administrators ignored warning signs while a teacher sexually abused at least seven children for more than a year.

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