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Action News Investigation: Local school district hires felons

A U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania is pushing for federal legislation that would require periodic criminal backgrounds checks for all school employees across the country.
A U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania is pushing for federal legislation that would require periodic criminal backgrounds checks for all school employees across the country.

This comes as Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan revealed to 6abc Tuesday, he found a local school district knowingly hiring felons to work with directly with children.

Pennsylvania law requires a background check before a potential school employee is hired, but after that there are no additional checks in place to make sure they haven't run into major trouble with the law.

We sat down with Senator Pat Toomey and District Attorney Hogan to discuss the bill and the DA's investigation into the Coatesville school district which uncovered a disturbing trend.

Victor Ford was the all-time leading scorer for the Coatesville's high school basketball team back in 1988. His fame propelled him to the position as the 7th grade basketball coach at North Bradywine Middle School in 2010.

But before being hired by the school, court records show he had amassed a rap sheet as a convicted felon and local drug lord.

"He was convicted federally of dealing drugs. He was convicted at the state level of dealing drugs. He was a career cocaine dealer," Hogan said.

But that criminal past didn't stop the Coatesville school district from hiring Ford as a coach.

A year after he was hired, Ford was arrested for allegedly raping a 16-year-old girl at her house, and pled guilty to corruption of a minor.

Now DA Hogan tells Action News, Ford is not the only criminal his investigation found has been hired by the district.

"We are seeing more than just one person who has been hired, who is a convicted felon, who should not have access to children," Hogan said.

Senator Toomey sat down with us to discuss proposed legislation that would increase scrutiny on school hiring practices to prevent convicted felons from getting on staff.

"So far this year, 177 teachers across America have been arrested for inappropriate sexual contact with kids, that's an average about one per school day," Toomey said.

A 6abc Investigation into employees working for the Coatesville School district in 2013-2014 found there were two employees working there convicted of manufacturing drugs, one convicted of assault, a substitute convicted of purchasing alcohol for a minor, and an instructional aid convicted of conspiracy to aid in a kidnapping.

Authorities confirmed our findings.

"That's outrageous. I mean, if school districts know this, they have to take steps right away," Toomey said.

Senator Toomey's bill calls for a lifetime ban on employment for anyone convicted of a violent of sexual crime against a minor, and a minimum 5 year waiting period for assault and drug related offenses.

It requires school districts periodically conduct checks and punishes districts who fail to keep up with the requirements of the new law by pulling federal funding. It also prohibits schools from transferring employees to other agencies when they believe the employee has had sexual contact with a child.

Coatesville's new superintendent Dr. Cathy L. Taschner reached out to us late Tuesday after several calls and says while the district can't comment on ongoing investigations, their first priority is the safety of the students.

Her full statement reads:

"While the District cannot provide comment on personnel matters or ongoing investigations, the Coatesville Area School District's first priority is ensuring the safety of students. To that end, all prospective candidates for employment are required to submit current background clearances in advance of being interviewed for a position. The District requires that potential candidates for employment submit the Act 34 and Act 151 (Child Abuse) clearances, the Federal Criminal History Report (FBI), and fill out the Act 24 form. The same is true of student teachers and independent contractors that potentially have contact with students. Employees are required to notify the District if there are circumstances that change their clearance history. In instances where the District becomes aware of any potentially unsafe situation, the District will act swiftly and will take any and all appropriate actions in order to ensure the safety of students."
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