Sen. Manny Diaz is once again introducing legislation aimed at better tracking disciplinary actions involving non-state-certified school employees.
Diaz said he saw a need for the measure (SB 534) following reports on Christopher Falzone. Falzone was a substitute teacher for Broward County Public Schools. Despite being dismissed following accusations of sexually harassing and abusing young girls, he was hired by a nearby charter school.
This wouldn’t have happened had Falzone been certified at the state level, Diaz argued.
“Actual classroom teachers are state certified employees,” Diaz explained.
“There is a process where the Education Practices Commission receives any complaints, any investigation, any criminal matters and they investigate the certificate-holder and they can decide to suspend their certificate, remove their certificate, all of that.”
But other employees, such as substitute teachers like Falzone, are issued local certificates. “So if there is an investigation or an issue that is brought up at a school site, it is not currently reported to the state,” Diaz said. His bill would set up a “disqualification list” to be maintained by the state.
Complaints involving non-state-certified school employees can currently be reported to the school district. Renaissance Charter School in Cooper City received a clear background check when they reached out to Broward County, according to a spokesperson.
That’s because Falzone’s case didn’t create a paper trail. The county maintained they were only required to help that charter school with a check into Falzone’s criminal history.
He wasn’t charged with any crimes while working for the county. But Falzone was eventually arrested while employed by Renaissance.
Diaz would require the state to track “[t]he identity of any person who has been terminated, or has resigned in lieu of termination, from employment with a district school board as a result of misconduct that affects the health, safety, or welfare of a student.”
That requirement could cover instances such as Falzone’s, where he was let go due to harassment allegations but had not yet been arrested. It would also go beyond just those accused of sexual harassment or assault, covering wider forms of misconduct.
“What this is designed to do is to catch those other folks that are in contact with students that don’t have a state certificate and have that reported to the state,” Diaz said.
“Now, the state simply will keep a disqualification list. And it is the job of the districts, when they go to hire somebody, just to go check the disqualification list.”
The bill would also apply to other non-certificated employees such as teacher’s assistants, tutors and other positions. The measure would take effect on July 1, 2020, if approved.
Diaz worked on a similar proposal last year with Rep. Wyman Duggan. Duggan’s bill was approved by the House but died before a full vote in the Senate.