When he applied for a job teaching at Parkview Elementary in Baton Rouge, Robert Earl Tucker Jr. wrote “no” when asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime.
Five days after filling out his application, he was provisionally approved and on Sept. 8 he was cleared to start work.
“Congratulations on your new position and once again, welcome to the East Baton Rouge Parish School System … One Team, One Mission!” wrote Amber Boyd, a staffing supervisor.
Problem was that Tucker was convicted in August 2020 of multiple felonies. He spent 10 months in prison after he lied repeatedly about his mental health history in an attempt to obtain a gun. A year earlier he’d brandished a gun during a confrontation with a customer inside a Walmart, a criminal case that has yet to go to trial.
The school system would have discovered all that if it had done the right thing and waited for a State Police background check.
But it didn’t, according to reporting by this newspaper's Charles Lussier, who filed a public records request with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
The records show that on Aug. 31 Tucker filled out a form and submitted his fingerprints to State Police. It would take State Police 21 days to complete their work, longer than the normal turnaround time of a week. But the agency was helping the state recover from the damage of Hurricane Ida, which had arrived two days earlier.
When Tucker’s background check was completed, he stopped coming to class. He signed a “notice of resignation” on Sept. 29, leaving blank the field asking why he had quit.
Parents by then had grown suspicious.
The new gifted math-and-science teacher talked to himself, parents said, and he wasn’t posting any grades.
Parents said he falsely accused a student of using the N-word. And he insisted that students and staff not pronounce his name as “RO-bert TUCK-er” but instead pronounce it in the French manner, as “ro-BEAR two-CARE.”
Then a news story began circulating about the August 2020 felony conviction, and parents said children looked at the accompanying mug shot and said that was their teacher.
After Tucker resigned, parents met in private with school leaders on Oct. 5 and three parents in attendance said school leaders apologized for hiring a teacher without first waiting for the results of his background check. But they would not answer direct questions about whether Tucker the teacher and Tucker the felon are one and the same.
Baton Rouge Superintendent Sito Narcisse says he’s discontinued the occasional practice of hiring employees before their background check is complete. Neither Narcisse nor his staff, though, have answered questions about how long the district has been hiring teachers with incomplete checks, except to say that the practice predated his arrival as superintendent in January.
Last week, the School Board, at Narcisse’s insistence, recommended revising the district’s policy manual to ban conditional hiring. The board is expected to fully approve the changes at its Oct. 21 meeting.
Parents and students in East Baton Rouge deserve better from their school leaders, and school board members should demand answers on just how much provisional hiring the system was doing.
Parents in Louisiana’s other parish systems and independent charter schools might also wonder whether their schools do any provisional hiring.