Holy Cross High School. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A Holy Cross of San Antonio volleyball coach who worked for the school up until Nov. 6 had been accused of misconduct involving female students at three of his previous employers and had his state teaching certification revoked. No system exists for private schools to easily vet prospective employees who might have a history of inappropriate behavior with students that did not rise to criminal proceedings.

Ruben Calderon
Ruben Calderon

The issue came to the forefront in San Antonio after former students from Providence Catholic School accused Ruben Calderon, a former teacher and coach at the all-girls school, of sexual misconduct in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Shortly after the allegations surfaced in early November, Calderon resigned from his coaching position at Holy Cross, where he had been employed since 2011. Since then, documents have shown Calderon faced allegations of misconduct with female students at a Fort Worth high school and at Palo Alto College before being hired by the Catholic coeducational school.

An official with the Texas Private Schools Association testified Tuesday before the State Senate Committee on Education that more effective tools are needed to better vet candidates’ backgrounds.

“Unless the abuser had actually had criminal proceedings against him or her, there is nothing revealed in a criminal background check,” said Laura Colangelo, executive director of the Texas Private Schools Association, which represents more than 800 schools enrolling about 250,000 students. “This prior workplace information that doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal proceeding could give all schools within the state of Texas a fuller picture of those they employ to care for our kids.”

As the number of state investigations opened into inappropriate student-teacher relationships increased 40 percent from 2016-17 to 2017-18, Colangelo and state education officials say student safety must be prioritized. In 2019, lawmakers plan to file a bill that would place some reporting requirements on private schools, as public schools already are mandated to do.

Before the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers discussed creating a list available to both public and private schools of “do not hire” educators – both state-certified and noncertified – who had been the subject of credible reports of misconduct.

While this provision didn’t make it into 2017 legislation that increased reporting requirements for public schools, State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who championed the 2017 law, said it will be included in proposals for the 2019 session.

“We don’t want to pass the trash to the private schools,” Bettencourt said at the Tuesday hearing. “The problem is without a do-not-hire registry, y’all are [subject to loopholes]. You don’t know that you are hiring somebody with a problem.”

Holy Cross did not respond to requests for comment about its vetting process for job candidates or whether it was aware of Calderon’s employment history when it hired him. Calderon also did not respond to requests for comment, and his lawyer declined a request for comment.

Calderon left Providence in the 1990s. After three alumnae came forward earlier this month with allegations from the late 1980s and early 1990s, the school hired a private investigator to look into the claims and filed a police report.

One former Providence student, who asked to remain anonymous, described Calderon threatening to fail her in math if she did not pursue a physical relationship with him.

“He would say things like, ‘Wouldn’t it be sad that you put in all four years of high school and not graduate because of your math grade?’” the student said. “Whether I had a good grade or a bad grade, it wouldn’t matter. If I had a bad grade he would say I could move this up or I could make it worse.”

Another former Providence student told the Rivard Report that Calderon would offer her rides home from school, buy her alcohol, and engage in oral sex with her.

An aerial view of Providence Catholic School.
An aerial view of Providence Catholic School. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Public records show Calderon faced additional allegations of inappropriate conduct at a Fort Worth high school in the late 1990s, resulting in his arrest and indictment on charges of indecency with a child. He pleaded guilty to a Class C misdemeanor assault charge.

In 2003, after Calderon was placed on leave by Fort Worth ISD, he started working at Alamo Colleges as an adjunct professor of kinesiology and later on as a volleyball and basketball coach.

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) revoked his teaching certification for secondary physical education two years later; its ruling described Calderon as a “person unworthy to instruct or supervise the youth of this state.”

In 2011, a fellow staff member at Palo Alto College lodged a complaint after allegedly seeing Calderon with his hand inside a female student’s volleyball shorts.

In an Alamo Colleges report, the faculty member mentioned Calderon used to teach kinesiology at Palo Alto College but was “asked not to teach anymore due to several complaints from female students.”

Calderon said he was massaging out a knot in the student’s lower back, but Alamo Colleges concluded Calderon should be removed from his position as volleyball coach.

But that didn’t deter Calderon from pursuing other teaching opportunities, and the lack of vetting allowed him to continue to be around female students. Six years after the SBEC finding, Calderon was coaching volleyball at Holy Cross of San Antonio.

A 2017 state law increased reporting requirements and penalties for public school superintendents and principals who fail to report educator misconduct, reflecting stricter standards and a growing awareness of the problem. However, reporting requirements for private schools have not kept pace, causing education officials to worry that uneven standards could cause private schools to become a safe haven for predatory educators.

Private schools, including Catholic schools, operate independently and for the most part without state regulation. They are accredited through separate accrediting commissions, each with their own hiring standards, although all require criminal background checks “to make sure the applicant does not have a criminal history,” Colangelo said.

But inappropriate behavior that does not rise to the level of criminal conduct can go undetected by subsequent employers. Colangelo called this “the level below” criminal conviction, comprised of “all the behavior that is less than that but still shouldn’t be in a school.”

In Calderon’s case, a criminal background check might not have picked up allegations from the early 1980s and 1990s that were not reported to the police, the guilty plea to an assault charge where Calderon was sentenced to deferred adjudication supervision in Fort Worth, or his eventual separation from Alamo Colleges for “unprofessional conduct.”

Still, the SBEC’s revocation ruling is available by public record request. The SBEC revocation of Calderon’s certification also is available through an online search on SBEC’s website.

In public schools, the law requires superintendents and principals to report to the SBEC alleged educator misconduct that results in a termination or resignation. Reporting is required not only for behavior that results in an arrest, but for misconduct that falls into a number of categories that fall short of legal proceedings. The SBEC then investigates reports and can sanction an educator or revoke his or her certification, if necessary.

“Quite frankly, the majority of misconduct educators commit that is required to be reported falls short of illegal conduct as outlined in law – take, for instance, an educator kissing a student or sending inappropriate text or social media messages to a student,” Texas Education Agency spokesperson Lauren Callahan wrote in an email.

The proposed “don’t hire” list would go beyond what currently exists to include both certified and uncertified educators and other school employees, including bus drivers or janitors, Colangelo said. Both public and private schools would report to the TEA instances of educator misconduct in a yet-to-be outlined process.

Colangelo told lawmakers that while her priority is to protect the independence of private schools, such protective steps are necessary.

Because of constitutional protections for private schools’ hiring powers, however, a law couldn’t punish private schools for hiring someone from this list, Colangelo said.

“I don’t know any private school head who would hire someone who is on that list, but we can’t put that in statute,” Colangelo said.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.