After a Denton Middle School teacher was arrested for two sexually related crimes in less than a year, questions started circulating as to how the Mobile County Public School System conducted the teacher’s background check.
Deandre Gerard Hill, 32, turned himself over to police after a warrant was signed for his arrest last week.
The former 7th and 8th grade language arts teacher has been charged with “sexual contact with a student under the age of 19,” stemming from an investigation by the Mobile Police Department and the local Child Advocacy Center.According to police in Mobile, a warrant for the teacher’s arrest was signed March 31 after a female student at Denton Middle School reported to school officials Hill had made statements of a sexual nature to her while she was in his classroom.
But according to police in Montgomery, Hill was also arrested for indecent exposure while working at Southlawn Middle School in Montgomery this time last year. The misdemeanor charges there were later dropped, but at this point it’s unclear why.
According to the MCPSS, Hill’s background check was cleared through the Alabama Department of Education (ALSDE) prior to being hired at Denton Middle School in the summer of 2014, but no additional or independent background checks were sought.
FOX 10 reported earlier this week that members of the ALSDE had confirmed the school system “never contacted ALSDE for an updated background check or verification of Hill’s teaching certificate before they hired him last summer,” but now those officials seem to be changing their tune.
In the meantime, MCPSS spokesperson Nancy Pierce said on Tuesday school officials in Mobile didn’t have any way of knowing there was a potential problem with Hill when he transferred from Montgomery.
“He had clearance from the state. It’s not something we would have known about,” Pierce said. “He had allegedly had a problem, but those were dropped, and the state didn’t take his certificate. Are we supposed to do a background check on all the new teachers that have already taught somewhere?”
Dr. Michael Sibley, director of communications for the ALSDE, told Lagniappe there’s nothing to prevent school systems from ordering an independent background check, but typically they go through the ALSDE’s website.
“Mobile didn’t do anything out of the ordinary,” Sibley said. “There was a lag between when we notified Mr. Hill his teaching certificate was being reviewed and when it became visible to the public. In that time, though bold of him, Mr. Hill was employed in Mobile. We take complete ownership for that.”
MCPSS Superintendent Martha Peek said the school system followed procedure when vetting Hill for the job using resources provided by the ALSDE. She said the school’s human resources staff did exactly as they were supposed to when Hill’s application was reviewed in August of 2014.
“It was pointed on the ALSDE portal (Hill) had gone through the background screening, ABI and FBI checks and was suitable to teach under state law,” Peek said. “We also had a recommendation from the system he previously worked for (Montgomery County Schools), which gave him strong recommendations and said they would hire him back.”
According to Peek, the incident of indecent exposure wasn’t brought up to officials in Montgomery County until Oct. 10 — after Hill was hired at Mobile.
As for the ALSDE, Sibley said the 7-month “lag” in publicly posting the status of Hill’s teaching certificate was because of his right to due process.
“If his teaching certificate had been revoked, Mobile would be made aware immediately, but sometimes that process can take up to a year,” Sibley said. “We don’t expect this to happen again, and we’re putting stop gap measures in place to make sure it doesn’t.”
According to Peek, Hill was put on leave March 5 — more than three weeks prior to his arrest in Mobile. Since then, Hill has resigned his position as a teacher for the Mobile County Public School System, and has been removed from the school’s website.
“The day there was any indication there had been an incident, we put him on immediate leave to have him out of the school and he hasn’t been back since then,” Peek said. “It was reported and handled immediately.”
However, Sibley said if the incident with the student at Denton hadn’t been reported, Hill could have potentially “flown under the radar” until there was a reason to review or look into the status of his teaching certificate.