The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 1, 2013

Safety net: No safeguard is 100 percent foolproof on background checks

Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A parent’s nightmare made headlines recently when an Enid Public Schools employee was charged with numerous felonies, including lewd molestation, use of a computer to commit a felony and forcible sodomy.

Charges against Patrick Leon Watts, a district bus driver, coach and substitute teacher, stemmed from incidents that took place both before he lived in Enid and after moving here.

All of the victims were between the ages 12 to 17, and Watts’ roles in the Enid school system involved children of the same age.

His school employment recently ended when police alerted the district that two alleged victims of molestations had made reports to Kansas police.

The Enid school district is cooperating with the Enid Police Department to uncover the scope of wrongdoing to protect and reassure students, family members and staff.

Reports of these allegations emphasize the importance of background checks.

And this upsetting and unfortunate incident begs some questions: How did the suspect get hired, and how does the district vet its job candidates?

According to EPS, background checks are done on all full-time employees and coaches.

“In addition to a national background check with fingerprints, district supervisors also carefully review candidates’ references, education and work experience,” said Amber Fitzgerald, human resources and communications director for EPS.

Systems are in place to spot trouble, but no safeguard is 100 percent foolproof.

In Enid’s case, the suspect had no public record of similar incidents. There was no cover-up.

This wasn’t a case where officials tried to sweep a scandal under the rug.

However, a situation this big — Watts faces 21 criminal charges involving four victims — shakes the confidence of school staff, parents, students and players.

That confidence in the safety and security of school and school-related activities is critical.

The best way to recover that confidence is to be candid about what happened in this situation and to be diligent about the background checks in the future, and it appears that is being done.