Petition seeks ouster of Central Islip school leaders
A Central Islip school board member is seeking the ouster of the board's president, the district superintendent and other board members and administrators over the district's hiring practices and violation of state laws, according to a petition she filed with the state.
The petition by Monique McCray, also a Suffolk County police officer, centers on whether the district took enough steps to vet a candidate who had applied for a part-time security post, but has a criminal background, court records show.
In the filing she named as respondents board president Fred Philips, board members Daniel Devine and William Softy, attorney Kevin Seaman, Superintendent Craig Carr and Norman Wagner, the administrative assistant for operations, buildings and security.
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The seven-page petition was filed Dec. 10 with the New York State Education Department.
The school board was ready to hire the applicant, Lem McCray, 55, of Central Islip, who is not related to Monique McCray, at a meeting in September after the state gave him clearance.
But Monique McCray, 42, objected. Outside of her unpaid position on the seven-member board, she works in the Suffolk sheriff's gang unit, where she said she encountered the applicant after a recent arrest.
She said school leaders downplayed her concerns.
Concerned that the arrest hadn't shown up on the state's background check, McCray on several occasions asked Carr and Seaman about the man's criminal history and security license status. On a subsequent background check the district conducted, everything was clean, Seaman said.
McCray then ran the applicant's criminal background and presented it to the board. Her research revealed a 2011 arrest on charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance and driving an unregistered vehicle while using a cellphone, for which he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a $275 fine, according to court documents. His record also shows a guilty plea in 1993 for driving while intoxicated.
Lem McCray did not respond to a request for comment.
"There was no excuse, nothing, about what I found," Monique McCray said.
Thomas Volz, an attorney representing the respondents, claimed the board members and administrators acted in "good faith" in papers filed with the state Thursday seeking dismissal of the petition.
The respondents "fully complied with all dictates relating to undertaking a criminal background / fingerprinting check," Volz wrote.
Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the state Education Department, said the agency could not comment on the pending petition, but spoke generally on the state's policies.
A hiring clearance by the state does not necessarily indicate that an applicant has no criminal history, Burman said.
The state uses several factors while reviewing an applicant's criminal history, such as the level of offense, the age of the applicant and how long it has been since the crime was committed, before handing down an employment eligibility ruling. It is legally barred from disclosing any criminal offenses to the school district, according to Burman.
"Fingerprinting and the information that flows from it provides one important resource to use when considering a person's employability in a school," Burman said in an email. "It is not, however, intended as a substitute for proper employment-based personnel background checks."
Seaman, the school district's attorney, said he was "not sure" if the district conducts separate background checks on each applicant after he or she is cleared by the state.
"I don't know the process the state uses," Seaman told Newsday. "We just follow their dictation, and they indicated there was no reason to not hire this fellow."
Background check procedure for New York State Education Department employees:
* Applicants must be fingerprinted and send their information along with $91.50 processing fee to the state.
* The Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability processes the fingerprints with the Division of Criminal Justice and FBI.
* OSPRA then reviews the applicant's criminal history, if any, and uses a set of guidelines -- such as level of offense -- to determine employment eligibility.
* School districts are notified if an applicant has been "cleared" for employment but, by law, the state cannot disclose if any criminal background has been found.
* Schools may choose to conduct their own criminal background checks, but it is not mandated.