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In Boston MA – Comprehensive background checks still not being done

Team 5 Investigates found teachers all over Massachusetts who lied about their credentials and criminal history, slipping through the system that’s supposed to be protecting children.

Team 5 Investigates’ Kathy Curran reported Wednesday on how they ended up in front of the classroom.

Gerald Aguiar clearly didn’t want to talk to Team 5 Investigates about why the state department of elementary and secondary education took away his license to teach last year.

Records show the former New Bedford elementary school teacher made unauthorized copies of MCAS testing materials and gave them to his students more than once.

“How is that supposed to help the kids? Is that proper conduct for a teacher?” asked Team 5 Investigates’ Kathy Curran.

Aguiar declined to answer Team 5’s questions. Records also show he also failed to notify the state about this third arrest and conviction for drunken driving which the state didn’t find out about for five and a half years.

Team 5’s review of state records in the last three years found 16 percent of the teachers whose licenses had been revoked had criminal convictions which their school districts and the state didn’t know about because proper background checks weren’t done.

“It’s very troubling,” said Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the Massachusetts department of elementary and secondary education. “We have zero tolerance for that kind of behavior and we’re very aggressive in going after those individuals,” said Chester.

Former Medford High School teacher Mark Smith lost his teaching license last year after allegations surfaced he sexually abused a former female student.

Records show Smith also lied on his renewal application in 1999 claiming he was never convicted of any crimes, even though he pleaded guilty to assault and battery in 1983.

“We’d like to ask you some questions about your teaching license?” asked Curran.

“No, thank you,” said Smith.

“You were convicted of assault and battery but then on your license you lied,” asked Curran.

Smith declined comment.

David Copice also lost his license to teach after pleading guilty to lying about his credentials when he applied for assistant principal jobs at high schools in Hanover and Middleborough.

“You said you went to Harvard University and that wasn’t the case. Do you think that’s good qualities of a teacher?” asked Curran.

“I think there’s more to it than what had occurred,” said Copice.

Team 5 Investigates discovered Copice lied again when he became the director of education at Northern Essex Community College. He told the school he had a PhD from Boston University when he does not. Copice told Team 5 Investigates he has mental health issues and has a tough time distinguishing fantasy from reality.

“It’s frustrating, I’m a smart person with a very severe problem,” said Copice.

“Is there anything that can be done to make sure the districts are doing a better job?” asked Curran.

“We rely on districts, districts are the hiring authority for our teachers,” said Chester.

“There is no easy clear line of information that alerts school districts to something that may have happened when it’s away from the school district itself. At this point, the information is only limited in most cases to what we find in the CORI check,” said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

Another problem, according to state Rep. Alice Peisch, chair of the legislature’s joint committee on Education is the fact that comprehensive, national background checks aren’t being done yet.

“Massachusetts, I believe, is the last state to enact legislation that allows access to the national fingerprint database,” Peisch said.

The system to do those national checks isn’t up and running. The state just hired the vendor MorphoTrust to handle the fingerprinting.

A spokesman for the department of elementary and secondary education told Team 5 they will be contacting superintendents to ask for volunteer districts to participate in a soft launch of the state’s new automated fingerprint identification system using their newly hired employees, prior to the full-scale rollout.

Watch the video here: