Court: District Need Not Hire Teaching Applicant With 13 Felony Convictions

By Mark Walsh — May 09, 2008 1 min read
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This almost seems made up, but it’s not.

A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a Texas man’s lawsuit alleging that a school district wrongly refused to hire him despite his 13 felony convictions.

The applicant, James J. Crook, was a lawyer who was convicted of barratry, which my legal dictionary defines as the crime of instigating groundless judicial proceedings. After losing his license to practice law, Crook got a job as a substitute teacher in the El Paso, Texas, school district, according to court papers. His suit said he applied multiple times for a permanent position as a social studies teacher, based in part on “representations” from an administrator that his felony convictions were not a bar to permanent employment.

After three years of not getting hired, Crook filed a challenge with the federal Equal Opportunity Commission, and later a federal lawsuit alleging various claims, including fraud based on the alleged misrepresentation and a claim that convicted felons should be a protected class under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, the court upheld the school district’s policy of barring all felony convicts from teaching positions. The appeals panel agreed with the district court’s conclusion that “because teachers are in close proximity to school children on a daily basis, and are charged with the responsibility of representing to their students an example of good moral character, the school board’s policy reflects the legitimate interest of protecting children from both physical harm and corrupt influences.”

The court’s decision in Crook v. El Paso Independent School District is here.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.