Following the arrest of former Locust Valley Middle School/High School music teaching assistant Charles Bull for attempting to have sex with a 13-year-old boy whom he met online, the district is reforming its hiring process.
No administrators or Board of Education trustees mentioned Bull by name, but board President Jennifer Maselli opened the Aug. 20 meeting by saying, “The board was shocked and appalled to learn about the recent arrest of a former district employee. We share the community’s outrage and concern.”
Maselli said one of the meeting’s key topics would be how the district can make its hiring process more comprehensive and secure for students. Additionally, she said the board would advocate for new state hiring practices across New York.
Acting Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tom Dolan, who was introduced at the meeting, said the district had already implemented its new hiring practices for candidate interviews this summer. He said the next step is to institutionalize the process for all future candidates.
Dolan said, however, that the changes are not necessarily tied to recent events, as they have been in place since July 17. Bull was arrested July 24.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to think that these were reactionary. They’re not,” Dolan said. “These are just plain, old good practices that deserve the chance to be given an opportunity, and this is the direction that we’re going to be moving in.”
According to Dolan, the first step in the new hiring process is determining if the position is needed and can be supported by the budget. Then, the district advertises the position, which will happen mostly online or by word of mouth. When candidates apply for the position, they will be interviewed and their backgrounds will be checked.
The first step in a background check is fingerprinting to check for a possible criminal record. Bull was cleared by the state when he was hired, a status that he maintained for several weeks after his arrest. Since it was a federal arrest, the state was unaware of it. It only revoked his clearance after Locust Valley contacted state officials to alert them about his arrest.
Dolan said the district will also require written references and check candidates’ online activity. Additionally, interviews are to be conducted by trained committees, and teachers must give demonstration lessons.
Maselli later noted that the board had approved and sent several resolutions for social media regulations to the New York State School Boards Association in July. The resolutions called for parameters for social media interaction between students and faculty; staff social media training; and amendments to the state ethics code explaining how technology can be used as a force for good.
Maselli said NYSSBA rejected the proposals, arguing that it’s up to individual districts to decide how to train staff in the ethical use of social media. She said, however, that the district could still work to have other districts approve the resolutions and address the issues at NYSSBA’s October conference.
District parent Jen Jones, of Bayville, said she was pleased that the board and administration changed the district’s hiring processes and asked if officials had been in contact with third party agencies, such as law enforcement, in working on the changes. Dolan said the district has only worked with neighboring districts.
Jones also asked about the specifics of the process for contacting references. Dolan said the district requires at least one reference to be a recent work supervisor, and that the district can call other educators who may be familiar with the candidate based on their work history. Jones suggested that the district have a stronger line of communication with parents when bringing in new teachers.
Edie Dickman, a Bayville parent, said the district is “in crisis” as a result of cases such as Bull’s, as his was not the first. Elementary music teacher John Benstock admitted in Nassau County court in February 2013 that he had inappropriate sexual contact with 14 students under age 11 in classrooms and in their homes, where he gave them private lessons. Dickman insisted that even more teachers were questionable.
“To me, that indicates that there is some place out there on the internet, basically,” said Dickman, “where we are known as a district that is hospitable to or not particularly forbidding to people who have malintent toward children. “
Dickman asked if the district is changing policies regarding music teachers’ access to children, as they often give lessons to small groups or, at times, one child. She also said that the district should enhance its ability to do background checks based on candidates’ social media presence, which Dolan said it could look into.
The LVCSD Board of Education will meet on Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Locust Valley Middle School/High School mini-theater.
Laura Lane contributed to this story.