Teacher’s background check submitted Oct. 24

Published 11:18 am Friday, December 19, 2014

On Friday, Oct. 24, the S.P. Morton Elementary School first-grade teacher who was arrested on charges of distribution of heroin went by the Franklin Police Department to be fingerprinted for her background check, said Captain Tim Whitt, spokesman for FPD.

The teacher, Elizabeth Ferguson, was hired on Sept. 29, and she started work in the classroom Oct. 1, said Kelvin Edwards Sr., Franklin City Public School division’s director of organizational accountability performance management.

On the same day FPD submitted it, Oct. 24, the Virginia State Police received the Suffolk woman’s information. The state police began work on it Nov. 19, said Corinne Geller, VSP public relations director. Geller said the state processes thousands of background checks annually to explain the delay.

Typically, requests take 12-14 business days to process from the day it is received. However, she said this background check required additional research.

While Geller could not discuss the particulars of the additional research due to state law, she said if there is no existing criminal record, then the response is usually provided to the requestor within a few days.

Requests that involve an existing criminal history do require additional research. The longer the record, the more research necessary, Geller said.

School Board Attorney H. Taylor Williams said there were two interpretations to the state code on the background check policy.

The first is that before being hired, the applicant has to submit to fingerprinting. The second is that when a person accepts employment, the fingerprinting event is triggered. Williams said nothing suggests exactly when the background check event should occur in the state code.

By comparison, the attorney said that the city’s personnel policy requires the criminal background check to be complete before employment can be offered.

Human Resources Director Gail Wade did not return multiple calls from The Tidewater News in reference to the background check process.

However, Edwards said the first step is for an applicant to be recommended to the school board. Once the school board approves an applicant, he or she is an employee and goes to human relations to complete a new hire packet. Part of that packet is the background check, which is to be taken to the Franklin Police Department. The employee pays $17.50 for this, which is half of the fee for the service.

The employee is afforded time while they are on the division’s clock to do this on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. He or she can begin work in the classroom if a teacher immediately, as the state code allows for this, Edwards said. Sometimes the screening can take up to eight weeks, he added.

Edwards said he could not say whether it was normal for an employee to take almost four weeks to complete the packet, including the background check part. He said he completed it on the day he was hired.

On Dec. 5, Ferguson was placed on leave after the schools received the results of her criminal background check. The first grade teacher resigned from her position on Monday, Dec. 15, and it was accepted by the superintendent, effective immediately.

According to the Virginia Court system, her charges date back to December 2013, and she was arrested on Sept. 26. Ferguson’s arraignment date is scheduled for Jan. 7, in the Suffolk Circuit Court.