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Carlos Tapia, 31, was hired in May at Innovate Charter School, where he supervised kids in the cafeteria. He was expected to be fingerprinted so his past could be checked, but the school didn’t bother, he said. “I could have been a person who was dangerous,” said Tapia, who was a public school teacher’s aide before he served a year and half for heroin distribution. A background check would have quickly turned up his criminal past. Tapia applied to Innovate Manhattan because of his previous experience in education, and even says he checked with the state to see if charter schools would be able to hire someone with a criminal record. He fully expected to undergo the fingerprinting required by the state for charter schools as well as public schools.
The high-profile school, then sharing Tweed Courthouse space with the Department of Education itself, did fire Tapia after three months — but he still can’t believe that he was even hired by a charter school in such a prime location. “It’s just crazy. What if I was someone who really couldn’t be trusted?” Tapia said. “What if I had anger-management issues? “I even took the elevator with the chancellor (Dennis Walcott) all the time,” he added. A charter school official said that background checks were “always done,” claiming that Tapia’s had been completed by an employee no longer with the school.
Head of school Gayla Thompson declined to further comment, saying that Tapia “is no longer an employee here.” She then hung up on a reporter. A source familiar with the inner workings of the school said officials were entirely in the dark about Tapia’s past until contacted by a reputable news source. The school is now reviewing all personnel records, the source said. Aside from the heroin arrest, Tapia’s résumé suggested that he was qualified for the charter job. Before turning to crime, he made $10 per hour as a public school teacher’s aide. He said he was barely making ends meet — then his hours were cut due to the fiscal crisis. That’s when he made a “mistake,” choosing to supplement his income by transporting heroin to Ohio. The city fired Tapia after the arrest.
Innovate Charter parents expressed shock at the revelation. “I didn’t know anything about it. Now I’ve got all kinds of questions for the school. I want to know if my daughter is safe,” said Huberney Chavez, 47, whose daughter is in sixth grade. “They’ve got to check the backgrounds of employees. It’s important you’ve got to know who’s taking care of our kids. I don’t care if it’s public, private or charter they should check their backgrounds.”
Innovate Manhattan is not the first charter school to hire an employee previously fired by the public schools. Columbia Secondary School Principal Jose Maldonado-Rivera, fired after the drowning of 12-year-old Nicole Suriel on a field trip, was hired by Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School, The News reported in June.