A General Accountability Office (GAO) investigation obtained exclusively by ABC News has found that people with histories of sexual misconduct are still getting hired by school systems across the country, despite state laws designed to prevent it from happening. The report, requested by Rep. George Miller, D-CA, highlights 15 cases in which teachers or coaches were hired, or kept on school staffs, despite evidence they were sexual predators. In 6 of those cases, these offenders used their school positions to sexually abuse more children.
In one case, the victim was a young, disabled boy. In another, the victim was a girl in 6th grade.
"I think this report tells us that we should be very concerned," Miller told ABC's Pierre Thomas. "We should construct or at least ask the states to construct a system that can be as foolproof as possible. The current system clearly has huge gaps in it. … And that is just not acceptable."
The GAO found that the predators beat the criminal and background checks that are in place in many states, in a variety of ways. In some cases, schools did not perform the required criminal history checks. And even when checks were performed, they sometimes were limited to in-state criminal records, and did not reveal the teaching candidate had a criminal record in another state.
But the biggest problem may be what Miller calls "passing the trash." These were cases GAO found in which school systems just let suspected sexual offenders resign, and even wrote them glowing letters of recommendation, so they could find teaching jobs elsewhere.
"My first reaction is just one of anger," Miller said, "because I spent my entire life working with young children … and then to see that in fact with knowledge, school official passed a convicted child abuser and molester on to another school system by covering up that information in the record. It's outrageous."
The GAO pointed to the example of one teacher who was the subject of whispers and suspicions of sexual abuse throughout his career, but no school system ever took action against him. The teacher, whose identity has been confirmed by ABC News as Kevin Ricks, had twice been asked to leave previous teaching positions – in fact, he had been banned from campus by one school.
Last year, Ricks was teaching at Osbourn High School in Manassas, Va., when a mother went to school officials to complain that Ricks was sending inappropriate messages to her son on Facebook. The school did nothing. Later in the school year, he was arrested at the school and admitted to sexually molesting a 16-year-old student at the school. He has since been charged federally in a string of alleged sex abuses that date back to at least 1979
The GAO report also cited these cases:
A Connecticut teacher was convicted in 2008 for sexually assaulting multiple underage girls. This came after he had been compelled to resign two previous teaching jobs for having child porn on his school computer and making inappropriate advances on female students. Yet both schools gave him good recommendations, so he was able to continue abusing young girls.
A coach and teacher was forced to resign from one Ohio public school because of 'inappropriate' relationships with female students. But in true "pass the trash" fashion, he received a letter of recommendation, and was hired to teach and coach at a second Ohio public school district. There, he committed sexual battery against a sixth grade girl. He was convicted and sentenced to 2 years in prison in 2006.
In Florida, a man who was convicted in 2008 of engaging in sex with an underage boy, was allowed to become a volunteer coach last year, without receiving a criminal history check, as required by Florida law. He has since been arrested again, charged with having sex with a boy he was coaching.
The GAO found that in many cases, school officials allow teachers to resign rather than face disciplinary action, and often provide positive references. Some schools did not perform required criminal checks, and even if checks were performed, they usually only cover that home state. If a teacher has moved around to various states (as did Kevin Ricks), a single-state check would not turn up the critical information.
Miller says if the people in the system had been doing their jobs in these cases, kids would not have been molested.
"That's the bottom line." Miller said. "These are all different situations but there was a breakdown in the system doing its job to protect the children and assure the parents that was a safe place for their children to be during the school day."