A failure by a Virginia child protective services agency allowed a school administrator accused of sexually abusing a young girl to find a new job as an assistant principal, an investigation by the News4 I-Team found.
By failing to notify school officials, Arlington County Child Protective Services violated state law. The man found a new position in Prince George’s County Public Schools where he worked for three years.
According to state education records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, a September 2013 investigation by Arlington County Child Protective Services found former Claremont Elementary School teacher Zevlin Staten sexually abused a third grade student in 2006. The state records said the abuse occurred inside a classroom closet and continued in successive years when the girl was in the fourth and fifth grades.
Police investigated Staten but said it didn’t have evidence to recommend criminal charges. Staten was not prosecuted. The records show he has denied the accusations from the outset. Staten maintains his innocence, according to his attorney. He declined to be interviewed by the I-Team.
The records obtained by the I-Team show Arlington County Child Protective Services failed to notify Arlington Public Schools and the Virginia Department of Education about its findings, as required under Virginia law. The error prevented state officials from revoking his license until May 2017, more than three years after the investigation.
Though Staten resigned his position in Arlington Public Schools in June 2013, during the investigation by Child Protective Service agents, he found a new job as an assistant principal at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Prince George’s County, Maryland within weeks. School district and state records obtained by the I-Team show Staten remained at Thomas Johnson Middle School until he resigned in January 2017.
“That’s the type of mistake you never want to make,” child sex abuse counselor Dr. Eliana Gil said. “It’s a very serious mistake and a very grave situation that puts kids at risk.”
Several parents of Thomas Johnson Middle School students said they were unaware of Staten’s prior misconduct investigation in Arlington County until they were notified by the News4 I-Team. Dwight Francis of Lanham said his daughter was a student of Staten’s through January.
“(They) could have notified me of a potential danger to my child," Francis said. "She’s in the seventh grade and he was a seventh-grade adviser.”
Arlington County Department of Human Services officials, who oversee the county’s Child Protective Services agency, said they are not allowed to comment on the handling of specific cases. “The county will look into and address any report that a required notification was not received and also ensure that its protocols are updated,” an agency spokesman said in a statement to the I-Team.
Staten’s case was discovered languishing in October 2016 by Arlington Public Schools. A school district spokeswoman said officials became aware Staten was teaching in Prince George’s County and began an inquiry.
Arlington Public Schools held a hearing into Staten’s case in January 2017.
Other Potential Loopholes, Errors
The sequence of events occurring in Staten’s case between September 2013 and January 2017 reveal other possible errors and a loophole in Virginia law that allowed his return to a classroom.
Virginia state education records said Staten appealed the 2013 finding that he’d engaged in sexual misconduct. The appeals process lasted through 2015, when state social service officials sustained the initial finding by Arlington County.
Staten was allowed to maintain his teaching license and avoid being placed on the state child abuse registry during his appeal, which would have prevented him from getting a job with children. The registry is not publicly available but is used by public agencies.
“Allowing someone to continue to work and have access to other children is an egregious situation,” Gil said. “We have the safety of children to consider.”
Arlington County’s failure to properly notify Virginia state education officials about Staten’s case until 2016 exacerbated the loophole, allowing Staten to remain licensed even after his appeal concluded.
Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle declined to speak specifically about Staten’s case but said Virginia laws require local school districts and child protective service agencies to promptly report cases of suspected child abuse to education officials. “If one agency doesn't carry out its responsibility, there's a chance for a 'window’ to be opened for an individual to move to another state and get a (teaching) license in another state,” Pyle said.
Parents at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Lanham also question Prince George’s County Public Schools’ background screening of Staten before hiring him in 2013.
Francis, whose daughter begins eighth grade at the school next month, said the school district should have called Arlington Public Schools and inquired about Staten’s history before hiring him.
“If I apply for a job at McDonald’s, they check my references,” said Francis. “If someone applies at Prince George’s or another school district, (the school district) should do the same. It's old fashioned. You pick up a phone and you make a phone call."
A Prince George’s County Public Schools spokeswoman said prospective employees are subjected to state and FBI background checks. She said the school district will call past employers, if the candidate worked in a different school district.
Sources inside Prince George’s County Public Schools said the district called Arlington Public Schools in July 2013 to inquire about Staten and were not told of any problems with him. Arlington County Public Schools told the I-Team it does not maintain a log of phone calls received about job references and could not detail whether it was contacted about Staten.
The Maryland State Department of Education said Staten’s Maryland teaching license, which he obtained days after his resignation in Arlington County, is under review.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.