In 2016 a parent pleaded by email the superintendent of the School District of Lee County to look into a teacher working at Varsity Lakes Middle School for the safety of the children there.
She claimed he sexually abused her son from 2007 to 2008 while working for the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services. An outside investigation for that agency substantiated the claim.
But prosecutors in that state did not charge him criminally.
Therein, lied the problem.
Steven Biczel, a man with a substantiated finding of child sexual abuse in another state, cleared criminal background checks in Florida.
He was hired as a camp counselor for the city of Cape Coral in 2012 and as a math teacher at Varsity Lakes Middle in 2014, with neither of these employers aware of his past until the parent emailed in 2016.
When the school district confronted Biczel in 2016, he admitted he’d been dismissed from his job at the New Jersey Division of Youth Services amid this investigation.
He promptly resigned and the school district notified his other employer the City of Cape Coral.
“We informed him we would no longer need his services at that time,” said Connie Barron, interim assistant city manager.
Barron said in 2012, a substantiated finding from a child welfare agency in another state would not have been legally accessible to the city during the hiring process.
Since then, she said Florida law has updated to include these type of records in background screenings for camp counselors who have relocated from another state.
School districts have a different mechanism for pre-employment screening.
While fingerprint criminal background checks are standard for most lines of work dealing with children, educators must also be screened through Florida’s education certification portal and discipline system.
These mechanisms alert employers about past misconduct and discipline on an educator’s license within the state of Florida. The state also requires employment history checks of each of the person’s previous employers and applicants to answer a series of questions about resignation and termination.
The Department of Education said via email that law has been in place since 2008, prior to when Biczel was hired.
The School District of Lee County refused to sit down for an interview with WINK News on this topic and referred WINK News to Biczel’s personnel file when asked which former employers were contacted before he was hired.
There is no record in the personnel file that the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services was ever contacted.
District spokesperson Rob Spicker released this statement:
The School District of Lee County stands behind the process we use to hire new teachers and the immediate removal of those who lie on their applications.
We performed a Level 2 background check for Steven Biczel that included fingerprint searches through the FDLE and FBI databases and they came back clean. Four work references gave him stellar reviews.
Biczel has no arrest record and no criminal record. There is no public record of the allegations made against him while volunteering as a mentor.
Our hiring process for background and reference checks was developed and vetted by staff attorneys to meet Florida Statute 1012.27.
The School District of Lee County did everything required, necessary and expected when hiring Biczel. He lied on his application and resigned immediately when confronted with his lie.
When asked if all former employers are contacted before hiring, Spicker emailed the following response:
At a minimum, the hiring manager must complete two phone references. One of these must be from the current or immediate previous supervisor/administrator.
Discipline documents from the Florida Department of Education indicate that it was revealed after the parent emailed Dr. Adkins in 2016 that Biczel left the New Jersey position “not in good standing”.
“All it takes are phone calls and diligent checking,” said Andrea Clemens, an advocate, and author who was sexually abused by her middle school teacher.
Clemens said background checks give a false sense of security because of the heavy focus on the criminal record.
“Not every offender has a criminal history … but every offender has an offending history,” she said.
WINK News contacted Steven Biczel by email and telephone, but could not get him to comment for this story. Records indicate that while he admitted to lying on his job application to school leaders, he also told them he was not aware the allegations of child sexual abuse were substantiated.