Schools beef up hiring protocol

Accused Cd'A teacher was working under conditional certificate

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COEUR d'ALENE - School officials in Coeur d'Alene are taking a hard look at teacher hiring practices, and putting some new screening steps in place, following this week's arrest of a district high school teacher accused of rape and other felony sex crimes involving a child.

Daniel Taylor, 32, a science teacher at Venture High School, was arrested Monday and remained Thursday in Kootenai County jail where he is being held on a $50,000 bond.

Although the alleged child victim in the case is not a student, the matter raises questions about teacher hiring practices in Coeur d'Alene and the state of Idaho. Taylor was hired by the school district and licensed to teach by the Idaho State Department of Education in September 2011, less than a year after Taylor pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of assault and child abuse in a domestic violence case in Colorado.

Catherine Olguin, spokeswoman for the Boulder County District Attorney's Office, said Taylor's sentence of 15 days in jail and two years of probation with domestic abuse and alcohol evaluation and treatment were deferred. Colorado court records show that the case was dismissed upon Taylor's successful completion of state-issued rehabilitation programs. By following the terms and conditions of the assault and child abuse case, he was also able to avoid a year of probation for six counts of violating a protection order.

"Though the school district cannot comment on the specific details of Daniel Taylor's hire because Mr. Taylor is on administrative leave pending the outcome of a law enforcement investigation and legal proceedings, we can confirm that we followed the steps through the State Department of Education regarding his criminal history check and fingerprint process," said school district spokeswoman Laura Rumpler.

She described the hiring screening process as "multi-layered," including interviews and reference checks, in addition to the criminal background investigations.

School districts work with the Idaho State Department of Education for teacher certification and background investigation checks.

Rumpler said the state receives the results of all criminal history and fingerprint checks of prospective teachers, and shares the results of those reports with districts by issuing or not issuing teaching certificates.

Idaho education law calls for fingerprints to be matched, at a minimum, against the statewide criminal database, the FBI's database and the statewide sex offender register.

Taylor previously worked as a teacher in Coeur d'Alene, from 2005 through 2008, before moving to Colorado for several years. Before being re-hired by the school district in September 2011, Taylor had to apply for a new Idaho teaching certificate and his criminal history and fingerprints were scrutinized again.

Taylor's 2011 teaching certificate was issued with conditions placed on it by the state education department's Professional Standards Commission. Those conditions included completion of an ethics course and completion of a new fingerprint check between May 1, 2012 and Sept. 1, 2012.

Melissa McGrath, spokesperson for the state education department, confirmed that Taylor does not have a 2012 fingerprint check on record. The only fingerprint record the state has for Taylor is from July 2011.

"In general, if an individual does not meet conditions set on his or her license, the Professional Standards Commission could initiate a case to compel compliance," McGrath wrote in a message to The Press. "Per Idaho Public Records law, I cannot comment on the status of individual cases before the Professional Standards Commission."

The commission has the legal authority to revoke, suspend, deny, or place "reasonable conditions" on teaching certificates upon certain grounds. The list of grounds includes felony child abuse offenses, but does not specifically mention misdemeanors such as the crimes Taylor pleaded guilty to in Colorado.

At the time of Taylor's arrest, there were two teachers in Coeur d'Alene working under conditional teaching certificates. Taylor was one of them.

Matt Handelman, superintendent of Coeur d'Alene public schools, is spearheading the review of the district's hiring practices, Rumpler said.

The district "has begun implementing additional measures to strengthen its hiring practices beyond state requirements," Rumpler told The Press.

The following procedural changes are effective immediately in Coeur d'Alene schools:

* For all teaching candidates with certificates that include Professional Standards Commission conditions, the school district will require a separate background check that will give the district access to background information now unavailable to the local district.

* Prior to the expiration of any conditions placed on teaching certificates, the school district will work with the state education department to ensure the conditions have been complied with. If a certificate candidate fails to meet the conditions, the district will re-evaluate the teacher's employment status.

* The district intends to strengthen the detail of the questions it may legally ask on its employment application, asking candidates about prior misdemeanors or other background information that will help the district enhance its assessment of candidates during the hiring process.

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