The Freeport middle school principal, a felon accused of having sex with a 16-year-old graduate of the school, submitted false fingerprints to the state in the background check for his hiring nearly a decade ago, the state Department of Education said Thursday.
The revelation came after Newsday posed questions to the state and the school district because records show John O'Mard, 44, had served almost a year in jail after a 1990 conviction for grand larceny, a felony, and a 1987 conviction for petty larceny, a misdemeanor.
'This came as a shock to us'
Freeport Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said the district had relied on the state agency's clearance to hire O'Mard.
"This information about his previous convictions -- this came as a shock to us," said Kuncham, superintendent since 2009.
Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins, in an email, explained how the agency contacted the Division of Criminal Justice Services to ascertain the truth regarding O'Mard's fingerprints.
The department asked the criminal justice division to look at the fingerprints of O'Mard it had on file and compare them with those he submitted to the state for his hiring by Freeport schools "to better understand why a match was not made in 2004," Tompkins wrote.
"DCJS reported no match was made because the prints did not match. In short, it's apparent Mr. O'Mard submitted a false set of fingerprints when he applied for his current job," he wrote.
State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the state should consider reviewing records of personnel hired before technological advancements in fingerprinting.
"Maybe it wouldn't hurt to review files from 10 or 15 years ago and say 'How many have we missed?' " Flanagan said.
O'Mard, of Freeport, pleaded not guilty Wednesday at his arraignment to four counts of third-degree criminal sexual act and was released on bail. If convicted, he faces up to 4 years in prison.
His sole job in the district has been as principal of J.W. Dodd Middle School; he was hired in 2003. State records show his salary was $171,044 in 2010-11.
After O'Mard's arrest on Wednesday, the district said in a statement that he has been "administratively reassigned" pending the investigation's outcome.
Ed Jenks, O'Mard's attorney, said Thursday he needs to look into the matter. Jenks said he has not "done the due diligence in reviewing the criminal dockets alleging the convictions, and until then is not able to say whether or not there is any accuracy to this."
State law requires the Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability (OSPRA), which comes under the Department of Education, to conduct fingerprint-supported, criminal-history background checks for applicants for certification and all prospective employees of school districts, charter schools and BOCES districts.
Kuncham said the district received fingerprint-based clearance for O'Mard's employment from OSPRA in 2004.
O'Mard also signed an affidavit in 2003 when he was seeking district employment, stating that he had not been convicted of a crime, Kuncham said.
A statement posted Thursday on the district's website stated: "The Freeport school district followed all state-mandated protocols relating to the hiring of Mr. John O'Mard and received the required fingerprints clearance letter from the State Education Department for his employment."
Kuncham said the district's attorneys were in contact with Education Department officials.
District: O'Mard was cleared
"The whole purpose of the background check and the fingerprint clearance is that we are led to believe he is cleared for employment," Kuncham said. "And we are depending on State Ed . . . and we are dealing with the lives of youngsters, and I feel that by not knowing -- I feel that the system may have failed."
At O'Mard's arraignment, prosecutors said he had sex with the 16-year-old graduate of the middle school after the two met on a dating website.
Nassau police said O'Mard met the student on Grindr.com. They chatted for about a week before they met last Sept. 22 and went to O'Mard's home, where they engaged in sex acts, police said.
The teen told police he didn't recognize O'Mard at first, but remembered him as his former principal later that evening, authorities said.
School officials learned of the alleged incident this month from a friend of the victim. The victim had told the friend about the encounter months earlier.
According to OSPRA, potential employees can get individual fingerprint cards from the local school district, charter school, BOCES, colleges with teacher preparation programs or by sending a request to OSPRA's office.
Jonathan Burman, the Education Department spokesman, said that in the years since 2004, improvements have been made to safeguard the system.
"In 2004, people could have their fingerprints taken at local schools or the police station. They were done using the 'ink & roll' method," Burman said in an email. "We have made improvements to the system in the decade since O'Mard apparently submitted false prints. Technology now provides greater protections in the system, including -- most significantly -- the ability to submit fingerprints electronically."
Requirements on fingerprints
By law, prospective employees of school districts, charter schools and BOCES districts must have fingerprint-supported, criminal-history background checks by the state Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability.
Prospective employees must:
Use OSPRA's fingerprint packet, which includes FBI fingerprint cards and other necessary documents.
Find out from the school or other entity where their fingerprints should be taken. Some schools do this; others have made fingerprinting arrangements with a BOCES or local police station.
Send fingerprints and packet to OSPRA. The agency electronically forwards properly completed fingerprint cards to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services and the FBI for processing.
Those agencies provide OSPRA with a copy of the individual's criminal history background, if any, so that the agency can make a determination on clearance for employment or certification.
Information about fingerprinting requirements are at www.highered.nysed.gov/tcert/ospra/
Source: Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability