Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has
It's almost unbelievable that a Freeport middle school principal could have falsified that most basic method of identification -- his fingerprints -- and kept working in the district undetected for nearly a decade.
School officials have a lot of key functions, but one of the most important is ensuring children's safety.
If it was this easy for John O'Mard -- a felon who served almost a year in jail for felony larceny in 1990 -- to beat the system, how many other school officials across Long Island and New York State may have had a chance to do the same?
The case, now under investigation by Nassau's district attorney's office, raises other related issues that demand answers, too.
Did O'Mard -- whose falsified fingerprints came to light only after he was charged with engaging in a sex act with a 16-year-old boy in a separate case last week -- act alone in creating and submitting the false fingerprints?
How did he manage to obtain them? Are they real? Officials said Friday that they do not match anyone in the educational or criminal system. So where did they come from?
How thorough were O'Mard's background checks? Fingerprints are not the only way to determine an applicant's background.
Why didn't, say, a check of O'Mard's Social Security number unearth a background that included a misdemeanor petty larceny conviction in 1987?
Why did the Freeport school district bring him in as a principal in 2003, when his faux fingerprints weren't cleared by the state until 2004?
State officials said last week that O'Mard's deception had gone undetected for almost a decade.
Officials said Friday that O'Mard had started as a substitute teacher in the New York City school system, and that, as part of that hiring process, he had submitted copies of his fingerprints. O'Mard also had received a so-called Certificate of Relief from Nassau County courts that allowed him, despite his convictions, to work.
So why did O'Mard decide, on applying to Freeport, to submit that second, false set of fingerprints? Did Freeport and New York City exchange information about O'Mard's background? And if not, why not?
Last week, some Freeport parents praised O'Mard, crediting him with helping to turn Freeport's middle school around.
During an arraignment hearing on the sex-related charges, O'Mard's attorney, Edward Jenks, called him "a paragon of hope, virtue and right for everyone in Freeport."
Nassau Assistant District Attorney Robert Cavallo, however, told the judge that the 16-year-old -- who'd chatted with O'Mard online and only later realized that the suspect had been his middle school principal -- had begged and yelled for O'Mard to stop the alleged sex act.
O'Mard, who is charged with four felony counts of a criminal sexual act, pleaded not guilty last week. So far, he's said nothing publicly about the current case, his own criminal background or the state's revelations about his fingerprints.
He's also said nothing about the district attorney's investigation of whether his college degrees and administrative certificates are real, or state education officials saying he would never work around children again.
The state's assertion, given what's known thus far, is a good one.