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REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Norwalk schools firing: Justified or not?

Commentary • Apr 19, 2010 at 2:19 AM

Norwalk Schools maintenance employee Paul Brown, 52, of Wakeman had worked for the school district since 1983 in various positions, including substitute bus driver and food truck driver.

But when the Ohio legislature approved a bill in 2008 requiring criminal record checks for all school employees, Norwalk Schools officials discovered Brown was convicted of burglary in 1976 when he was 18.

The district fired him in September 2008. But then a statute enacted in 2009 permits non-licensed employees to hold school positions if the criminal offense, such as burglary, occurred 10 or more years from the background check.

Now Brown is suing the school board, saying he was deprived due process.

While we sympathize with Brown and recognize he may indeed have a case under the new law, it is difficult to blame the school district for acting on the information it obtained in 2008. Every district's No. 1 goal is to educate our children and they have a responsibility to do that in a safe environment.

Plainly stated, the school was damned if it did, damned if it didn't. However, we wish it were possible (and it isn't, in an environment where someone and their lawyer is ready to pounce on the slightest hobgoblinish inconsistency) for common sense, instead of blinkered obesiance to a rigid standard, to prevail.

Common sense would indicate that a 25-year employee with a that isn't working directly with children deserves a second chance to make up for a mistake he made 7 years before he ever was employed by Norwalk Schools. But that's for the courts to decide.

Under the new statute, it appears the state has apparently left it up to the school districts on how to handle these non-licensed employees if the criminal offense happened over 10 years ago. Unfortunately, these gray areas will inevitably lead to confusion and lawsuits until the final version of the law is black and white.

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