A music teacher who lost his Florida teaching license for sending inappropriate text messages to a female student avoided detection in Maryland and twice secured positions in Maryland school districts, according to an investigation by the News4 I-Team.
The case reveals breakdowns and weaknesses in some of the most important safety nets designed to prevent troubled teachers from slipping through the cracks.
The I-Team uncovered the problems in a review of the case of music instructor Eric Greco. Florida suspended Greco’s teaching license in January 2016, after he acknowledged sending text and social media messages with inappropriate, sexual language to a student while teaching in St. Augustine, Florida.
The teacher himself told the I-Team he knew he was eluding detection.
Although the Florida license suspension should have triggered action against Greco’s Maryland teaching license, Maryland state education officials did not begin the process of revoking the license until 10 months later, in November 2016.
During the delay, Greco worked a full-semester as a music instructor at Patuxent High School in Calvert County. He then spent nearly a full semester teaching music at Eastern Middle School in Montgomery County.
The I-Team investigation found the Maryland State Department of Education stopped using a national license check database for at least eight months in 2016. The database called NASDTEC is a decades-old voluntary partnership of all 50 states. The system alerts state departments of education when teacher licenses are revoked anywhere in the country. The Maryland State Department of Education acknowledges the blackout period contributed to the delay in revoking Greco’s Maryland license.
According to officials with three Maryland school districts, the state department of education did not notify school districts they had stopped using the license check system.
A state department of education spokesman said Maryland was also not reporting to the NASDTEC database the names of Maryland teachers from whom licenses were revoked for misconduct during the eight-month span in 2016.
The I-team also found the background check systems used by Calvert County and Montgomery County Public Schools failed to red flag Eric Greco before he was hired.
Calvert County Public Schools superintendent Daniel Curry and Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Derek Turner acknowledged their school districts did not call the Florida school from which Greco was fired when they conducted background reviews of Greco. Both also acknowledged the school districts do not always call all prior employers when screening prospective hires.
Calvert County and Montgomery County Public Schools both said they depend on the state department of education to flag out-of-state license revocations against their teachers.
“We rely on the state department of education for that process," Curry said.
Turner said, “We didn’t know until early November 2016 that [Greco’s] license was revoked. And it’s concerning because this was something that was available earlier in the year to Maryland state officials.”
The Maryland State Department of Education declined requests for an interview from the I-Team. In a written statement, the agency said, “The hiring of local educators is the responsibility of each local school system.”
The agency said it stopped using the NASDTEC national license database system in 2016 because of concerns about its impact on data security in the state licensing system.
The Maryland State Department of Education statement said, “Local school systems are required to perform background checks on all staff, and follow local protocols on reference checks.”
Child safety advocate Jennifer Alvaro, a Montgomery County parent who also provides counseling and treatment to people convicted of sexual crimes, said the state department of education should have proactively notified school districts that it was not using the national license database in 2016.
"We need all safety nets to be used. And if one is not being used, all stakeholders should be made aware," Alvaro said. "Did other cases slip through the cracks?"
In an interview with the I-Team, Greco said he knew he was eluding detection when he successfully applied for the Eastern Middle School music teacher position in August 2016 and when he was not removed from his position earlier in 2016 at Patuxent High.
“At some level, the school districts didn’t do their due diligence with background checks," Greco said.
Greco said he pursued the Eastern Middle School job despite his Florida license revocation out of financial need.
“I wanted a job. There’s a sense of desperation that comes in. You do whatever it takes," he said.
Greco said the text messages he sent to the student at St. Augustine High School in 2013 were not illegal, but they were unethical. The messages included sexual language and references.
“It was an ethical mistake," he said. "Deep down, a good-hearted teacher cares about the kids. That’s one of the things I’ve always been proud of. I’ve always cared about the kids.”
No police or child protective services investigation was initiated in Greco’s case. Investigations were conducted by the Florida Department of Education.
Montgomery County Public Schools applied in January for direct access to the NASDTEC license database to conduct its own searches of license revocations for future hires. The NASDTEC system, which previously was accessible only to state departments of education, recently approved access from local school districts.