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School system tweaks employee vetting process

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SMITHFIELD — After a husband and wife were arrested within a week of each other on allegations of submitting false teaching credentials to Johnston County Public Schools, the school district has responded by revising its document verification process.

Chief of Staff and Communications Delores Gill said the school district’s human resources department takes its application process seriously. She said the school district processed 1,500 personnel applications for the 2018-19 school year without incident.

“Increasingly sophisticated identity theft impacts more than 14 million Americans each year,” said Gill. “Our HR team constantly reviews its processes and procedures for employment. This includes evaluation of the work of our third-party contractors who conduct background checks. Our document verification processes have been revised to address the apparent falsifications we faced in these cases.”

Gill said Superintendent Ross Renfrow and the school board appreciate the human resources staff’s work.

“The Johnston County Board of Education has complete confidence, faith and trust in the abilities of the human resources team under the leadership and direction of Brian Vetrano,” said school board Chairman Mike Wooten. “Based on their diligence and investigation of the matter, the team was able to discover two individuals determined to perpetuate alleged fraud upon our public school system as well as other governmental agencies. As soon as this information was discovered, it was immediately reported to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as well as the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”

In the most recent incident, Gill said a former Four Oaks Middle School employee was charged with obtaining her job with Johnston County Public Schools under false pretenses.

Ivette Serrano Hughes, 45, worked for Four Oaks Middle from March 19 to June 30, 2018 as an exceptional children’s teacher.

“Johnston County Public Schools notified the Johnston County Sheriff’s (Office) last week of concerns about credentials submitted by the employee, Ivette Serrano Hughes. “ said Gill. “JCPS also has notified the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction of these concerns.”

According to the sheriff’s office, Hughes is married to Torians Hughes, 40, who was charged with similar offenses after being employed by Cleveland High School as a social studies teacher and assistant football and basketball coach.

“Johnston County Public Schools appreciates the prompt action of the Johnston County Sheriff’s (Office) in these cases,” said Gll. “Prior to being employed with JCPS, Ms. Hughes was employed with another school district in another state. Our human resources department has notified her previous employer of its concerns.”

Gill declined to comment on the specific changes the school system’s HR department has made to its verification process.

Johnston County Public Schools’ third-party vendor is Mount Airy-based Edwards and Associates. The company’s website said it works with more than 3,000 businesses in 48 states.

The school system’s contact with the firm is Allen Edwards. Phone and email messages to the company were not answered in time for this story.