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Vetting of school employees questioned following arrests of 2 custodians

'Everybody has to be local, state and federally background checked,' Jennifer DeShazo of the Martin County School District says
Posted at 7:46 PM, Feb 15, 2023

STUART, Fla. — Two custodians who work at schools on the Treasure Coast have been arrested in the past week: one on drug charges and the other on possession of child pornography.

So, how tough is the vetting process for workers who are around children every day?

At a Martin County School District job fair, those applying for janitorial jobs are being told they have to pass the same background checks as teachers. That's true of every school district in the state of Florida.

WPTV checked the backgrounds of the teenage janitor accused of possessing drugs at a school in St. Lucie County, and the 32-year-old custodian at Jensen Beach High School who is accused of possessing child porn.

We found neither had a criminal history before their recent arrests.

Jennifer DeShazo with Martin County schools outlines the process that school districts use before hiring new employees.
Jennifer DeShazo with Martin County schools outlines the process that school districts use before hiring new employees.

Everyone in Florida from school superintendents to bus drivers has to pass a drug test and a check to see if they've committed crimes that would disqualify them from working in schools.

"Everybody has to be local, state and federally background checked," Jennifer DeShazo, said the public information officer for the Martin County School District. "Fingerprints are sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and then sent to the FBI."

DeShazo said school systems across Florida are struggling to fill custodial positions, not necessarily because of the stringent background checks.

WPTV gathered salary information from the largest Treasure Coast school districts.

There are six custodial openings in St. Lucie County at yearly salaries of between $30,000 and $40,000.

There are 11 custodial openings in Martin County with salaries starting at roughly $32,000 a year.

"And it is a challenge to retain those people in those positions and hire people and attract top talent," DeShazo said. "They are being tasked with working around children in an educational facility, and they take that very seriously because, at the end of the day, we're all about educating and protecting our children."

Custodial workers are tough to find and keep in the current labor market. But in Martin county and other school districts, spokespeople said they can't and won't stop the rigorous vetting process for those applying for work.

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