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Schools must check up on the people they hire
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published September 23, 2007
The school district didn't verify Jean Sciacovelli's credentials. She worked as a health care aide.
An oversight by the Hernando County School District personnel office jeopardized the health of more than 900 children at Deltona Elementary School during the 2006-07 school year.
The lapse was unacceptable and avoidable, and the district needs to take immediate steps to prevent a recurrence.
Jean Sciacovelli was arrested last week and charged with unlicensed practice of the health care profession. Law enforcement authorities allege Sciacovelli falsified state documents to make it appear she was a licensed practical nurse so that she would be eligible for a $1,400-a-year raise as the health care aide at Deltona.
It wasn't until months after Sciacovelli was dismissed - because of an unrelated shoplifting arrest - that the district found out she was not an LPN and was misrepresenting her level of training to care for students. Those procedures included inserting catheters and feeding tubes for special-needs students.
This situation points to two flaws in the school district's system.
First, if the personnel office had checked with the state Department of Health to verify Sciacovelli's claim that she was an LPN, they would have learned that she was not in its registry. That rudimentary verification never took place, and there should be a strict procedure to ensure it does, especially for employees who are responsible for students' health care. The information is easily accessible and should not require a great deal of staff time.
Second, this incident highlights the need for the district to raise its minimum requirements for health care aides, especially at schools like Deltona that are designated facilities for special-needs students. Certification as an LPN is not an unrealistic requisite.
This is not the first time there have been notable failures by the personnel department to vet the backgrounds of employees or job applicants.
Earlier this year, that office failed to catch misrepresentations and inconsistencies in two candidates for superintendent. Had it not been for Times reporter Tom Marshall's investigation of finalists Lorenda Tiscornia and Craig Bangston, those discrepancies might not have been brought to light.
A few years earlier, the office was unaware that when former Powell Middle School principal Michael Ransaw was hired, he was under investigation by the state Department of Education for pawning a school-issued laptop computer in Broward County. A routine inquiry on the front end of that employment application might have saved the district more than a quarter-million dollars it has spent since to justify its dismissal of Ransaw.
In Sciacovelli's case, there were numerous holes in her application even before she allegedly forged her certificate as an LPN. For instance, Sciacovelli claimed to have graduated from West Babylon High School in New York in 1981, but the certificate she included (showing a "course of study completed") was for another high school the previous year.
People who are willing to lie to get what they want will fool some of the people some of the time. But it should seldom happen with an organization - the school district, for example - that has the know-how and responsibility to prevent such deceptions.
Superintendent Wayne Alexander should examine the resources and procedures of the personnel office to ensure they are adequate. If they are not, then Alexander should persuade the School Board to adopt new screening requirements, or perhaps allocate additional funding, for this front-line defense against deceit.
No child should be in peril because someone in the central office didn't have the time, or take the time, to confirm the background of an employee.