D103 ‘failed to fully in­ves­ti­gate’ teacher

Ro­driguez, charged with at­tempted mur­der, passed crim­i­nal back­ground, ref­er­ence checks

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Zak Koeske

More than a month since Lyons School Dis­trict 103 placed a newly hired mid­dle school teacher on leave af­ter it learned of his at­tempted mur­der case, the dis­trict has yet to ex­plain its hire.

An­dres Ro­driguez, who is ac­cused of shoot­ing a man seven times fol­low­ing a traf­fic dis­pute in Tin­ley Park last year, beat out five can­di­dates for a job teach­ing sixth-grade English lan­guage arts in Au­gust, de­spite his pend- ing crim­i­nal charges and re­cent dis­missal by nearby Cicero School Dis­trict 99 over them, records show.

Lyons of­fi­cials have said they were un­aware of Ro­driguez’s sit­u­a­tion when they hired him and that he passed a crim­i­nal back­ground check.

By state statute, all Illi­nois school dis­tricts are re­quired to con­duct crim­i­nal back­ground checks on job can­di­dates that in­volve fin­ger­print-based checks with the Illi­nois State Po­lice (for Illi­nois con­vic­tions) and FBI (for out-of­s­tate con­vic­tions); a check of the Illi­nois Sex Of­fender registry; and a check of the Illi­nois Child Mur­derer and Vi­o­lent Of­fender Against Youth registry, Illi­nois State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion spokes­woman Jackie Matthews said.

“Any em­ployer can only rely on what those checks give you. They’re the ul­ti­mate au­thor­ity,” Dis­trict 103 in­terim Co-Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Mado­nia said. “State of Illi­nois po­lice, lo­cal po­lice fin­ger­print­ing and FBI? I mean it’s pretty com­pre­hen­sive.”

While job can­di­dates con­victed of cer­tain sex, drug and vi­o­lent felony crimes are au­to­mat­i­cally dis­qual­i­fied from con­tention by state statute, those with pend­ing cases— like Ro­driguez — are not flagged and not sub­ject to re­vo­ca­tion of their ed­u­ca­tor li­cense, law en­force­ment and state board of ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials said.

Still, Dis­trict 103 board mem­ber Jorge Tor­res said, a sim­ple call placed to his past em­ploy­ers or even a Google search should have been suf­fi­cient to alert of­fi­cials of Ro­driguez’s back­ground.

“They failed to do the min­i­mum,” said Tor­res, who is crit­i­cal of the board ma­jor­ity and its hir­ing prac­tices. “If I’m get­ting a job for any­thing … that com­pany has to trust me, so they­have to call me and call the pre­vi­ous places of em­ploy­ment.

“This guy was let go from two places within a year. That should have been a red flag, and they failed to in­ves­ti­gate— ba­sic phone calls.”

Mado­nia said Thurs­day that he couldn’t dis­cuss any­thing re­lated to Ro­driguez’s sit­u­a­tion, but spoke gen­er­ally about the dis­trict’s hir­ing process.

“The gen­eral pro­ce­dure is to have ap­pli­cants ap­ply and they’re in­ter­viewed,” he said. “We do ref­er­ence checks on the fi­nal can­di­dates and then the fi­nal can­di­date is sub­jected to fin­ger­print­ing by the Lyons Po­lice Depart­ment, they’re sub­jected to an Illi­nois State Po­lice check and an FBI check.

“All of that has to come back clean in or­der for us to em­ploy any­one.”

Dis­trict hu­man re­source of­fice doc­u­ments ob­tained by the Daily Southtown show the prin­ci­pal, as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal and three teach­ers at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Mid­dle School in­ter­viewed six ex­ter­nal can­di­dates, in­clud­ing Ro­driguez, for the mid­dle-school ELA job he ul­ti­mately ac­cepted.

Fol­low­ing the in­ter­views, Prin­ci­pal Don Jones con­tacted three of Ro­driguez’s ref­er­ences on Aug. 17, ac­cord­ing to an em­ploy­ment rec­om­men­da­tion form he signed.

The dis­trict redacted the names of Ro­driguez’ s ref­er­ence s—but not the names of their em­ploy­ers— on the ap­pli­ca­tion doc­u­ments it pro­vided the Daily Southtown.

Four of Ro­driguez’s five ref­er­ences are iden­ti­fied as em­ploy­ees of Wash­ing­ton Ju­nior High School in Joliet School District86, where Ro­driguez taught for a decade un­til his 2017 ar­rest on at­tempted mur­der charges.

His fifth ref­er­ence is a lawyer friend who rep­re­sented him in a stalk­ing case in Will County last year that has since been dis­missed.

Jones ac­knowl­edged Thurs­day that he had in­ter­viewed Ro­driguez and checked his ref­er­ences but said he couldn’t com­ment on whom he had con­tacted, what they had said or any­thing else about the “un­for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion” in­volv­ing Ro­driguez.

Dis­trict of­fi­cials also de­clined to com­ment on in­for­ma­tion in Ro­driguez’s job ap­pli­ca­tion.

Ro­driguez in­di­cated on his ap­pli­ca­tion, sub­mit­ted July 31, that he was then un­der con­tract in both Cicero School Dis­trict 99 and Joliet School Dis­trict 86, which is listed as his “cur­rent or most re­cent” position.

But nei­ther dis­trict em­ployed Ro­driguez at the time, records show.

Joliet, which placed him on paid leave af­ter his ar­rest in July 2017 and had not been aware he’d sub­se­quently be­gun teach­ing in Cicero, passed a res­o­lu­tion in May ac­knowl­edg­ing his res­ig­na­tion upon ac­cept­ing the Cicero job in Au­gust 2017.

Cicero, which placed Ro­driguez on paid leave in Fe­bru­ary af­ter of­fi­cials claim to have be­come aware of his “sit­u­a­tion,” moved in April to dis­miss him, ef­fec­tive June 4.

“I will be rec­om­mend­ing to the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion of Cicero School Dis­trict No. 99 … to non­re­new and dis­miss you as of the end of the 2017-2018 school term and not re-em­ploy you as a teacher in the Dis­trict for the 2018-2019 school term,” Dis­trict 99 Su­per­in­ten­dent Rodolfo Her­nan­dez wrote in a no­tice of rec­om­men­da­tion of dis­missal in March.

Ro­driguez, who listed his rea­son for leav­ing his cur­rent job as “de­sir­ing a more chal­leng­ing position,” an­swered “no” to a ques­tion on his ap­pli­ca­tion that asked if he’d ever “failed to be re­hired, been asked to re­sign a position, re­signed to avoid ter­mi­na­tion, or ter­mi­nated from em­ploy­ment.”

He also in­di­cated that a Lyons dis­trict em­ployee had re­ferred him for the job, al­though the em­ployee’s name is not listed.

Tor­res said he be­lieves Ro­driguez must have known some­one in the dis­trict to get the job and doesn’t think he was prop­erly ref­er­ence- checked, de­spite the as­ser­tions of dis­trict of­fi­cials.

Joliet School Dis­trict 86 spokes­woman Sandy Zalewski said the dis­trict was un­aware of any ref­er­ence checks made for Ro­driguez through the dis­trict of­fice. She said it was pos­si­ble Lyons had by­passed the hu­man re­sources depart­ment and reached out di­rectly to one of Ro­driguez’s listed dis­trict ref­er­ences, but that it was “com­mon prac­tice” for a prospec­tive school dis­trict em­ployer to con­tact an ap­pli­cant’s last school dis­trict em­ployer through its dis­trict of­fice to ver­ify em­ploy­ment and ask for a ref­er­ence.

Ben Sil­ver, a com­mu­nity lawyer with the Cit­i­zen Ad­vo­cacy Cen­ter, an Elmhurst-based gov­ern­ment watchdog or­ga­ni­za­tion, said he found it hard to be­lieve the dis­trict wouldn’t have un­cov­ered Ro­driguez’s his­tory had it prop­erly vet­ted him.

“I know there are lim­i­ta­tions on what ref­er­ences can and can’t say, but I filled out a bunch of those ref­er­ence things for for­mer in­terns here and they al­ways ask ques­tions like, ‘Would you hire this per­son again?’ ” he said. “I can’t imag­ine get­ting through all those ques­tions and that some­one with this type of on­go­ing case would pass that.”

At the very least, Sil­ver said, the dis­trict should have per­formed an in­ter­net search for Ro­driguez’s name be­fore hir­ing him.

“If the stu­dents and par­ents could find this eas­ily, it re­ally raises a red flag as to whether the dis­trict was do­ing their due dili­gence in hir­ing and try­ing to find out what his back­ground was,” he said. “I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing dig­ging in deeply to some­one’s so­cial me­dia … but a Google search to see if they’re in the news seems like a very ba­sic thing to do.

Re­gard­less of how Ro­driguez landed a teach­ing job in Lyons, it may not be long be­fore a leg­isla­tive change pre­vents sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions from oc­cur­ring in the fu­ture.

In Septem­ber, ISBE ap­proved a pro­posal to “clean up pro­ce­dures re­gard­ing ed­u­ca­tor mis­con­duct” as part of its 2019 spring ses­sion leg­isla­tive agenda, Matthews said.

Ac­cord­ing to an ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary of the pro­posal, the leg­is­la­tion would “in­clude changes to back­ground checks and lan­guage that will al­low the agency to tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend a li­cense be­fore a con­vic­tion is made.”

Matthews said it­was too soon to say ex­actly how such a process would work, since a bill has not yet been writ­ten, but that it likely would in­volve ISBE hav­ing the abil­ity to sus­pend an ed­u­ca­tor’s li­cense when he is charged with one of the crimes that upon con­vic­tion trig­gers an im­me­di­ate li­cense re­vo­ca­tion.

State Sen. Martin San­doval, D-Chicago, who­said last month that he was mo­ti­vated to in­tro­duce such a bill af­ter learn­ing of Ro­driguez’s case, con­firmed Fri­day that he’s been work­ing with his staff on craft­ing leg­is­la­tion that he ex­pects to file early next year.

For the time be­ing, Ro­driguez re­mains on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave in Lyons, dis­trict of­fi­cials said. He’s due back in court for his crim­i­nal case on Jan. 17.

Ro­driguez’s lawyer de­clined to com­ment on his pend­ing crim­i­nal case.


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