By Selwyn Harris
Nye County School District NCSD Superintendent Dale Norton said the two recent arrests of district employees are the exception and not the rule when it comes to keeping students out of harm’s way.
Norton was referring to Perry Hood, 69, a district psychologist and Pahrump Valley High School health aide, Verona Worthington, 31.
Hood was taken into custody Jan. 22 on possession of child pornography charges. Worthington was arrested on possession of methamphetamine and other drug-related charges eight days after Hood’s arrest.
Norton said he wants parents to know that safety is first and foremost when it comes to students in Nye County.
“It is not something any district wants to have to deal with but unfortunately it happened and of course it happened pretty close to each other. What bothers me is that we have some great, great educators and employees in our district and unfortunately it puts a black eye on those people and that’s what I don’t like about it. In light of it, that is why I sent out the press release because we have an obligation to keep the kids safe and to educate them. We are going to do the very best job we can and hopefully if there are any others, they will pay close attention to those disciplinary consequences to these people,” he said.
Prior to employment all teachers, administrators, and other faculty members must undergo a thorough background check, Norton said.
He said mandatory fingerprinting is part of the background check, which is performed by the Nevada Highway Patrol.
“They are cleared through the Department of Education for licensed staff. They take that all the way through the state process. We do that for all of the employees. It is a very top-notch process. In addition to that, we have the pre-employment drug and alcohol test that was instituted a few years ago. Unfortunately, the individual who was arrested in Pahrump, was hired before we had that in place but that doesn’t mean that they can’t get employed and choose to participate in that kind of activity. Again, that is a pre-screen and we have had people not pass that. In fact, I had another district contact us about our process for that not too long ago, which is good. We also have a process in place for those who are currently employed. In fact, we are going to do a retrain for administrators here in the near future on reasonable suspicion. It’s all been taken through the union and we have a policy in regards to it and a process in place,” he said.
District employees are not randomly drug tested. Norton did say, however, that there must be some type of dubious justification for an employee to be called in for a drug test.
“When that comes about there is a process to make sure that the employees’ rights are not violated. The only random testing are for employees who drive buses and other district vehicles. Those are the CDL drivers, which includes me by the way. I have a CDL so I could be randomly drug tested,” he said.
Norton also said that teachers and administrators who have exhibited problems while on duty are dealt with according to the severity of the issue at hand.
“It all depends on where they are in their progressive discipline and the nature of the results of what comes in, too. If it comes in as a methamphetamine, we are going to go to the highest degree that we can,” he said.
As far as the district’s present policies, concerning background checks and drug screens, Norton said he will reach a decision in the near future to determine whether or not the policies need to be re-examined or even altered to reinforce the district’s efforts to maintain a safe learning environment for students.
He pointed to the incident involving Hood in northern Nye County as another trouble spot that might need re-examination.
“We will take a look at it, but right now I don’t know what else we can do. This is something that obviously nothing came up in the past until just recently. I read the Pahrump Valley Times article from Friday and I was thinking where was this person umpteen years ago? Why wasn’t something said along the way by this individual?” he said.
The school district is not a stranger to unwanted news involving staff members.
In November 2010, the principal of Floyd Elementary School along with a teacher and two special education aides were arrested on multiple felony counts of child abuse.
In August 2007, a fifth grade Hafen Elementary School Teacher was arrested on child pornography charges. Michael Gogerty was eventually sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to the charges.
Meanwhile, Hood remains behind bars in the Tonopah jail in lieu of $1 million bail. Worthington was released on her own recognizance last Friday.