Teaching assistant requirements uncovered

February 3, 2012 11:10:30 AM PST
Just one day after a Wake County teaching assistant resigned amid allegations he sexually assaulted a teen, ABC11 investigated the steps school officials use in hiring such positions.

Twenty-year-old Phillip Jerrod Barham worked at Southeast Raleigh High School until he resigned Wednesday. Barham faces a charge of a sex offense against a 14-year-old boy. Even though the incident did not happen at the school and the boy was not a student, the incident left many parents concerned.

"I thought it was disgusting to hear of something like this was going on," Grover Stevenson said.

The head of human resources for Wake County Schools, Stephen Gainey, said that Barham and every other employee is required to undergo an extensive background check before they are hired.

Afterward, school employees are only required to report anything to human resources over and above a minor traffic violation. Only bus drivers and volunteers are asked to consent to have their information run on a nightly basis.

Gainey said the idea to run nightly reports on all employees has been considered, but for now is not a plan he expects to happen in the near future.

"That's something we down the road look to move forward with other groups. Obviously it's going to be a culture change, a culture shift for employees so we want to make sure we're being sensitive in working through that," Gainey said.

Parents were also surprised to learn that Barham and other middle and high school teaching assistants are only required to have a high school diploma or GED. Additionally, those employees aren't required to receive any special certification before teaching Wake County children.

"There never has been," Gainey said. "It could be changed, but it might impact our ability to get enough people to fill the positions."

Adding this requirement, Gainey added, would also require the school system to pay more for teaching assistants with higher qualifications.

The only exception to the rule is those working in low-income elementary schools. Also, the school system implemented a new requirement Jan. 1 for all new elementary school teaching assistants to have either a college degree, or what's equivalent to an associate's degree or 96 hours of professional development and a state test in basic subjects such as Reading, Writing and Math.

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