Skip to comments.Metamora hired teacher despite prior felony (Illinois)
Posted on 10/12/2009 2:05:14 PM PDT by Graybeard58
School district gave Stephen Chromik 'third chance' after learning he had pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in Tennessee
Had Stephen Chromik graduated from college a year later, he may not have been hired to teach and coach at Metamora Township High School.
Then again, he may have been hired anyway because, unlike the State Board of Education and Bradley University, Metamora officials knew Chromik was a convicted felon.
They just decided to give him "a third chance." Now, he will never get another one to teach or coach.
Chromik is imprisoned for having sex with a 16-year-old Metamora student whom he had coached. His August sentencing came about three years after the school hired him as a family and consumer science teacher and girls assistant soccer coach.
"I was shocked to learn the school knew of his past record," a parent of a girls soccer player said last week.
At trial, the teenage victim testified Chromik had sex with her at least once at his Peoria apartment, gave her alcohol and tried to grope her at an equipment shed outside the school.
"I was not aware of the situation, and I'm surprised that Metamora knew about (Chromik's criminal record before hiring him)," another soccer parent said last week.
Both parents requested anonymity. The victim's parents could not be reached for comment.
"We felt we did our due diligence," Metamora Superintendent Ken Maurer said recently. "The sad part is that he was an excellent teacher. Even sadder, based on the jury's verdict, is that he made a very bad decision."
Chromik resigned in July 2008, shortly after the allegations against him surfaced at the Woodford County school.
He was sentenced to four years in prison on the aggravated criminal sexual abuse charge, but with time already served and day-for-day "good time" credit, Chromik could get out of prison in about 16 months. However, because of his conviction, Chromik must register as a sex offender, which prohibits him from teaching or coaching.
How did he get hired?
When Chromik, 26, of Elk Grove applied for a position in spring of 2006, Maurer told him he would have to undergo fingerprinting and police background checks.
"So then he told us about what happened in Tennessee," Maurer said.
In that state, Chromik was charged with attempted rape of a fellow Vanderbilt University student in 2003. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault and was put on probation for five years, beginning in 2005.
"I told him this would keep us from being able to offer him a position," Maurer said, adding he still had the background check done on Chromik.
"The report came back aggravated assault," Maurer said.
Chromik then asked if he could write a letter to the School Board to explain his situation, as well as provide additional character references, including at least some from Bradley, where he had graduated.
"We also wanted to see whether or not the state of Illinois would issue him a valid teaching certificate, or if the charge would keep him from being able to teach in Illinois," Maurer said.
In his letter to the board, Chromik reportedly said that as a young college student he had done some "stupid things." No other details in the letter were disclosed, and board members would not release a copy of it.
He also provided references from Bradley, where he graduated in spring 2006 with a bachelor's degree in education.
Chromik had transferred to Bradley around 2004 and became an offensive star and captain on the soccer team, earning a scholarship.
"His Bradley references were excellent," Maurer said, though he declined to disclose who wrote the letters because of confidentiality laws. "All said he had matured and vouched for his character."
"Bradley gave him a second chance," Maurer said. When he then recommended Chromik to the School Board, "We gave him a third chance."
But when Chromik graduated in 2006, Bradley officials had no access to students' out-of-state criminal records and, therefore, had no record of Chromik's prior felony conviction.
"Hypothetically, if a student had a felony from another state, we would not (recommend him for certification by) the Illinois State Board," Bradley spokesman Shelley Epstein said.
Epstein, citing federal confidentiality laws, said he could not comment specifically about Chromik. In general, though, he said students enrolled in Bradley's teaching program must twice undergo police background checks - once as freshmen and again as upperclassmen before going into classrooms to teach.
"Until 2006, those checks involved only (in-state) crimes," Epstein said, because private institutions like Bradley were barred from background information on crimes committed outside of Illinois.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 plugged that loophole - about two months after Chromik graduated.
Board vote based on trust
Although Maurer accepts responsibility for the hiring decision, the Metamora School Board had the final say and voted 4-2 to accept his recommendation to hire Chromik.
Voting against Chromik's hiring were board members Claudia Christ and Gary Grebner. They did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Voting for Chromik were Scott Winkler, Dale Whittington, Kent Malone and Charles Rogers, who no longer is on the board.
Board member Doug Doty said he was not present when the vote was taken, but he would have supported Maurer's recommendation.
"Mr. Maurer is an excellent superintendent, and he is very thorough in his checks," Doty said. "If he makes a recommendation, 99.9 percent of the time, it's fine."
Doty said it was sad the situation turned out the way it did with Chromik. "Like Mr. Maurer, I'm all for giving people second chances."
Board President Scott Winkler said he's still fully supportive of Maurer.
"I came on the board just two years after Ken became superintendent in 1987," Winkler said. "In all that time, I've never had reason to doubt him."
Though he now regrets the events that transpired, Winkler emphasized that no shortcuts were taken in Chromik's hiring: "Ken did everything he was supposed to do."
State's honor system
The State Board of Education also did what it was supposed to do before granting Chromik a teaching certificate.
But it relies on candidates whom universities recommend for certification to be honest on their application forms, including - as in this case - convicted felons.
The State Board is not authorized to conduct criminal background checks of applicants unless they admit to a criminal record. Instead, it depends on schools to do the checks before hiring teachers.
One of the questions asked on the state's teacher application form is: "Have you ever been convicted of a felony, or any sex, narcotics or drug offense in Illinois or any other state?"
"In Mr. Chromik's case, he did not answer truthfully, so we did not have the opportunity to do the review process," said Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the State Board.
"Any applicant for certification has a duty to the licensing agency to be honest, and absent such truthfulness, we are not permitted to investigate and review the applicant's criminal history until the employment stage, when a background check is done by the district," Fergus said. "We expect that teachers recommended by a university for certification will be honest."
A section of the Illinois School Code lists the offenses that prohibit certification and employment.
"Any criminal history that does not automatically bar an individual from certification or employment is grounds for review by (the State Board)," Fergus said. "We look at the conviction, we look at the character references, we do a thorough review of the case.
"Felony aggravated battery is not a conviction that would automatically prohibit someone from receiving a certification," Fergus said.
The State Board is now in the process of revoking Chromik's teaching certificate based on this year's sexual abuse conviction, she added.
"That revocation will be entered into the National Association of State Directors of Teachers Education and Certification, which state education agencies can access when reviewing applicants," she said.
The revocation will remain in effect pending the appeal of Chromik's conviction. If his conviction is overturned, the revocation will be lifted.
Schools must investigate
In Illinois, schools are required to conduct criminal background checks before hiring a teacher or coach. That process includes fingerprinting, which is tested against a national databank.
Peoria District 150 spokeswoman Stacey Shangraw said prospective new hires there also are required to have three letters of recommendation
"All teachers must have a valid teaching certificate, and we verify that information through a state database," she said.
District 150 officials this week could not confirm whether they automatically reject applicants who have a felony record.
Eureka District 140 Superintendent Randy Crump said that district's candidates also are checked against the national and state sex offender Web sites, along with the Illinois Child Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registry.
Dr. Jeff Nelson, assistant superintendent of the Peoria County Regional Office of Education, said most smaller schools hire an outside company to handle the screening.
Technological advances have cut the waiting time for results to a day or two, much quicker than previous methods that took up to four weeks.
"When we get a report of a person who has been fingerprinted, we maintain a history of all people who have passed (through the system) or who may have some kind of 'hit' on their criminal background check," Nelson said.
"We do this kind of screening for teachers and all kinds of people who have anything to do with children, like roofers (at the school) or someone working on the electricity in a school."
Nelson said he always has regarded a felony conviction as automatic grounds for barring a candidate from employment.
Meanwhile, Fergus said, the State Board is not opposed to conducting its own criminal background checks before certification, but that would require changing state law and providing funding to implement it.
"There have been discussions within the (State Board), but no formal legislation has been drafted," Fergus said.
Both state Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, and state Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, said they are unwilling to consider legislation because it could be unwieldy and expensive.
"The system worked," Risinger said. "But Metamora decided to hire him anyway."
Nickname Slo Mo.....
Ken Mauer is a stand up guy that gave a guy a chance and got burnt in the deal.
He should have taken W.C.Fields' advice
"never give a sucker an even break!"
Too bad he doesn’t look good in a bikini while perched atop a motorcycle....
Scum. Let all the bubbas in prison have their way with him. Maybe he will make better deicision afterwards
I live a few towns over - N. Pekin.
One pleads down a rape charge to aggravated battery and you want to stand up for the guy who said sure thing come right in. Mauer didn’t stand up for the people he should have THE STUDENTS. This is sleasy and slimy and makes me want to take about 14hrs worth of shower
Here is a list of people I have never raped or assualted...
Based on all of the facts as outlined and info available to Metamora (assault charge in college in another state), I am not so sure that many other school districts would have refused to hire him. The history is a little murky. That said, it is good that he will not be able to teach again in the future.
No zero tolerance for dumb ass school administrators, eh?
Well, at least they make smart decisions concerning their curriculum...LOL.
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