DeKalb Schools: Background check didn’t uncover teacher’s violent past

DeKalb County School District officials admit not finding out through background checks that a teacher hired over the summer had been previously fired for being physically violent with students.

Sandra Meeks-Speller, hired this summer to teach math at Chamblee Middle School, was placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 10, seven days after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution requested information about Meeks-Speller from the district.

Efforts to reach Meeks-Speller were not successful.

“Official background checks conducted by DCSD in both Ohio and Georgia did not indicate any abnormalities in that employee’s file,” district spokesman Andre Riley said in a statement. “Later, an abnormality was identified and addressed with the employee.”

Both the human capital management department and the school principals share responsibility in checking a teacher’s history, officials said. In DeKalb, the principal signs off on the hiring after human capital management background checks are complete.

Speller was terminated by Toledo Public Schools in Ohio for several infractions, including physically assaulting students, including twisting their arms, putting them in a headlock, and pushing them against walls.

DeKalb Board of Education member Stan Jester said Meeks-Speller’s hiring sheds light on problems with the district’s hiring practices and procedures, as Meeks-Speller’s past problems should have been easily — and quickly — discovered.

"This is demonstrable proof that (the) human capital management department remains an obstacle to the academic success of the district," he said. "Compared to other nearby districts, DeKalb's hiring processes are done too late and are too centralized, while lacking careful vetting procedures."

A Google search for Meeks-Speller's name includes stories from Ohio publications regarding her suspension and subsequent termination, as well as court records from a lawsuit she filed suing Toledo Public Schools for $3 million.

Toledo Public Schools officials said the district reported Meeks-Speller to the Ohio Department of Education for the misconduct infractions. Officials from the Ohio Department of Education have not responded to questions about whether they investigated the claims. Meeks-Speller is still licensed to teach in Ohio, which allowed her to get subsequent jobs in Columbus, Ohio, and with DeKalb Schools.

Meanwhile, the district continues having issues hiring for teachers, with nearly 50 vacancies as of the last reporting earlier this month.