August 16, 2001
Teacher Fired at the Last Minute
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A newly hired teacher has been dismissed by school officials in Brooksville, Fla., after they learned she stands accused of failing to protect a child that her polygamist husband took as his "wife," the St. Petersburg Times reports.
School system officials acknowledge that if the teacher, Teresa McCue, had not been honest about the case in filling out some background-check paperwork, they might not have learned about it until several weeks into the school year.
McCue, 47, was charged with child neglect in April 2000 in a case that is still unresolved. She was accused of letting Bruce D. Behensky, her husband at the time, marry a 12-year-old girl in a ceremony in their Dade City home, according to the Times.
McCue, whose last name then was Behensky, reported her husband's sexual abuse in March 2000. That led to charges against him. By then her husband had tried to impregnate the girl, one of his two child "wives."
The husband, who filed for divorce soon after McCue made the report, faces sex, child abuse and child neglect charges.
Pine Grove Principal Dave Dannemiller said he wasn't aware of those allegations when he interviewed McCue, who was hired July 24 as a fourth-grade teacher.
Shortly thereafter, staffers in the district's personnel office saw that McCue had voluntarily indicated on a background check form that she had criminal charges pending. Neither Dannemiller nor personnel officials were aware then of the details of the case.
Still, they changed McCue's appointment to that of a long-term substitute contingent on the charges being dropped by last Monday, when teachers returned to work and one week ahead of returning students.
McCue told school officials she expected the case to be resolved before then, but it was not. When she reported to work Tuesday, McCue was sent home without a job, according to the Times.
Heather Martin, an administrative assistant in the personnel office, told the newspaper that in this case, the district's safety net worked. But she said that if McCue had falsely answered the questions about her record, things might have been different.
"If you are asking me if she could have been in the classroom on Monday, yes," Martin said.
The school district isn't totally dependent on the honor of its job applicants. New hires are fingerprinted. Along with other information, the fingerprints are submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for review.
The problem, district officials told the Times, is that it takes up to three weeks to get criminal background checks returned. Some may arrive within a week. But in a world in which principals hire teachers and put them to work the next day, that leaves a gap. With three days until the opening bell, the district still has 12 teaching vacancies.
"That's the best we can do when you are hiring people in the last minute," said Superintendent John Sanders. "It would be nicer if we had a quicker turnaround on things."
To view the St. Petersburg Times story, click here