2 school systems were unaware of a troubled past

Case underscores weaknesses in teacher background checks

February 10, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

On the witness stand last month, helping convince jurors that she was innocent of striking a third-grader entrusted to her care, former Baltimore schoolteacher Barbie Scott made no mention of her troubled past.

Four years before being hired at Baltimore's Rosemont Elementary School, Scott was charged with -- but found not guilty of -- assaulting a second-grader in 1993 while teaching in Annapolis.

In 1995, she was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in a case involving her former husband in North Carolina. The next year, she was convicted of trespassing, also in North Carolina. In 1994 and 1996 in Baltimore County, a former boyfriend charged her with assault; neither case resulted in a conviction.

FOR THE RECORD - An article about former Baltimore schoolteacher Barbie Scott in yesterday's editions of The Sun reported incorrectly the year she was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in a case involving her former husband in North Carolina. The conviction was in 1985.
The Sun regrets the error.

Baltimore school officials were unaware of Scott's record until a reporter alerted them recently. Anne Arundel school officials said they didn't know about her record when they hired Scott to teach in 1993.

Scott's history has left parents questioning how a person with her past could land teaching positions in two Maryland school systems. The case, experts and school officials say, underscores weaknesses in teacher background checks.

Unless there has been a conviction and a potential employer asks for references, Maryland does not require one school district to tell another about a teacher who has faced criminal charges related to students, said Ron Peiffer, assistant state superintendent.

A central database is maintained only on teachers who have been convicted and whose licenses have been revoked, Peiffer said.

"As foolproof as you build these systems, you'll never get to a point where you'll have an absolute check on every person," Peiffer said. "Inevitably, some will slip through the cracks. Of course, we flag convictions."

Annapolis school officials would not reveal what Scott put on her job application, but they said that a conviction for felony assault with a deadly weapon, such as the one Scott had in North Carolina in 1985, would eliminate an applicant from consideration.

Because Scott had her record expunged in Anne Arundel, Baltimore school officials had no legal means of learning about her history with students there. Defendants found not guilty have the right to petition to have the charges, court dates and dispositions erased from their records. This line is longer than measure/can't be broken Baltimore schools spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt said yesterday that officials knew Scott had taught in Annapolis when they hired her and that they "got a favorable report from her principal."

A day after her acquittal last month, Scott reapplied for her Baltimore teaching job, saying the system needs qualified teachers. Officials say they have not decided whether to rehire her.

Claim of misidentification

Scott would not comment for this article. Through the attorneys who represented her in Baltimore Circuit Court, Keith Zimmerman and Sabrina Willis, she said she is not the person charged in all of the cases.

But The Sun obtained documents from the criminal cases that make it clear -- from birth dates and addresses -- that Scott was the person charged. Although Scott, 41, of Northeast Baltimore, had her record in Anne Arundel County expunged, the newspaper obtained dozens of pages of court documents from the parents of Delbert Bragg, the Annapolis student who said Scott twisted his right arm behind his back, bruising it.

Just after the start of the 1993-1994 school year, pupils in Scott's second-grade class at Tyler Heights Elementary School alleged that she was abusing them. A police report filed after the Braggs complained stated that Scott pushed another boy's head against his desk so hard that his nose bled and that Scott often threw shoes or felt-tip markers at pupils.

After the allegations surfaced, Scott was placed on administrative leave, said Mark Black, supervisor of investigations and records management with the Anne Arundel County schools. Scott worked with pupils for only a few weeks that school year, and her contract wasn't renewed, he said.

`Blame the child'

Delbert testified against Scott at the trial. Anne Arundel County Assistant State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess prosecuted the case.

"I remember [Scott's attorneys] illustrating the child as a problem child, like he had behavior problems," Leitess said of Delbert, then 6. "My remembrance of the child was he was a very nice, sensitive child but may have occasionally been boisterous. This teacher used his childlike qualities to her benefit during the trial. You know, if she had to grab his arm, it was to control him. Basically, with most of these cases, the defense is to blame the child."

Delbert's parents, Judy and Roy Bragg, say their son can be a handful. He was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder at age 5. But Scott had no right to twist his arm, they said.

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