Internal audit showed 189 cases of un-screened applicants
By RON AIKEN
From 2009 to 2016, Richland School District One failed to perform background checks on 189 athletic coaches to determine if they were on the sex offender registry of if they had a history of child abuse and neglect, according to a transcript of a grievance hearing obtained by Quorum between a former employee and District One Superintendent Craig Witherspoon.
The revelation was part of a 36-page transcript of a hearing on Feb. 27 between Witherspoon and former Classified Services Director Machelle Thompson. During the hearing Witherspoon asks Thompson what led to the souring of the relationship between herself and her former supervisor Sanita Savage-Cousar, the district’s Chief of Human Resources.
Thompson said she discovered that her secretary, a 17-year employee whose name Quorum is withholding, had “put our children at risk by not properly doing background checks for coaches coming in to our district,” the transcript reads.
When claims surfaced in 2016 about volunteer coaches at Hand Middle School receiving under-the-table payments from the school’s booster club, a district auditor pulled the files of the coaches in question and discovered they had not been properly screened against the Department of Social Services’ Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect or the South Carolina sex offender registry, Thompson said.
In the transcript, Thompson said when she questioned her secretary about having abandoned the practice, the answer she received was “that of all the times she had been doing them (in the past), she only came across two that were negative.”
Thompson then reminded Witherspoon that he had expressed shock when told of the secretary’s failure, and said an internal review of previous cases found “189 records of where she had not done the background checks to secure the safety of our children.”
Thompson’s problem with Cousar over the issue, she stated, was that while Thompson recommended the secretary be transferred to another department in the district with the same job title, Cousar wanted to keep her in human resources with a demotion to “make her the receptionist,” Thompson states.
Thompson said after getting the word that Witherspoon wanted the secretary fired immediately, Thompson terminated the employee on April 29, 2016.
At no point in the transcription does Witherspoon or Ken Davis, attorney for the district, object or interrupt, and Thompson’s grievance continues over the problems that going without a secretary for the next two months caused.
Thompson told Quorum on Wednesday morning that the same employee also was responsible for performing the same checks on all non-teaching personnel hired by the district but no audit was performed on those hires, which also could number in the hundreds, if not more.
“There’s no telling how many weren’t done,” Thompson said. “Instructional assistants in the classrooms, bookkeepers, receptionists, database specialists, secretaries … all the classified employees in the district except for bus drivers, custodians, maintenance people and food service personnel who are handled separately. All the rest came across (the employee’s) desk.”
“You’re talking about 2,000 or so classified employees currently working in the district. There’s no way to know without an audit.”
Thompson is suing the district, including Witherspoon and Causer personally, for $11 million. Witherspoon denied her grievance at the Feb. 27 hearing; a panel of selected board members will hear her appeal of that ruling tonight, according to Thompson’s attorney, J. Lewis Cromer.
Thompson was terminated on Feb. 10. She alleges in the lawsuit her firing was a result of retribution for having alerted Cousar and District One attorney Susan Williams that the district was illegally refusing to properly classify employees in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In the wake of those allegations Quorum previously has confirmed that a Department of Labor investigation of Richland One is underway, an investigation current employees allege district officials have taken steps to impede.
Richland School District One spokeswoman Karen York has yet to respond to a request for comment.
Reach Aiken at (803) 200-8809. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @QuorumColumbia.