Accused pedophile hired at charter school was banned from jobs at Broward public schools

BCPS conducted background check before suspect was hired at charter school

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Although the Broward District Schools Police Department's chief of police informed an accused pedophile that his termination had disqualified him from future employment with Broward County Public Schools, the former substitute teacher found a job with a charter school in Broward County and applied for a Florida educator certificate, records released Thursday show. 

Yet, Renaissance Charter School at Cooper City spokeswoman Colleen Reynolds said Charter Schools USA received a clear background report for Christopher Falzone in 2015 from the Broward County School District.

"The process requires us to rely on the Districts (in this case Broward) to conduct background checks and give us clearance when we hire teachers," she said.  

The background screening results sent to the school included an email from Broward District Schools police Detective Craig Kowalski wishing Falzone luck on his "future employment endeavors."

"Thank you for taking the necessary steps required by the Broward County School Board's Security Clearance Office," the email read. "Our review has now concluded and we are pleased to inform you that as of 8/16/2015, you have met the background screening requirements."

Broward County Public Schools hired Falzone, who was born in the Bronx, New York, when he was a Broward College student in 2008, records show. His 2014 termination happened after detectives investigated him for allegations that he was sexually harassing girls and sexually abusing a girl at an elementary school, records show. 

Falzone, who was accused of fondling a girl at Camp Live Oak in Fort Lauderdale this summer, was working as a substitute teacher in 2013 at Sheridan Hills Elementary School in Hollywood when a group of students who were in the third and fifth grades accused him of fondling them. 

"It would happen in the classroom, in front of everybody," a girl told a police officer Oct. 29, 2013, according to a police report. "But he would like put us in a position where no one could see and when I would try to move, he would move me back."

The Sheridan Hills student told a police officer Falzone had also fondled her vagina. Falzone, who was 31 years old at the time, accused the girl of having a "very big crush" on him and of being known "to be a liar." 

Five years later, the girl's parent said Falzone, now 35, is the liar and his alleged pattern of behavior shows the system failed her daughter. The parent of the former Sheridan Hills student filed a lawsuit seeking $5 million in damages against Broward County Public Schools.

The parent's lawsuit claims Falzone was openly grooming and sexually harassing the girl during the 2011-12 school year. And during the 2012-13 school year, Falzone started to fondle the girl's buttocks and eventually kissed her and sexually assaulted her, the lawsuit claims. 

The parent and the girl reported the incident to the Hollywood Police Department on June 5, 2013, and records show Falzone was notified of a School Board of Broward County probe and of his removal from the substitute teacher list two days later. 

When Falzone responded to the allegations in a January 2014 letter, he touted his experience with children. 

"I volunteered countless hours helping the school in the areas of need, such as chorus concerts, field days, field trips, PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) events, front office, clinic ... I have spent 12 years in schools, aftercare, camps and children's ministries in various churches," Falzone wrote.

Records show there were seven student witnesses in the Sheridan Hills child sex abuse case. Assistant State Attorney Lauren Covitz questioned the veracity of the girls' statements, according to a police report, and the Broward State Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute the case.

The Broward Professional Standards Committee reviewed Falzone's case and made a Feb. 12, 2014 recommendation to terminate Falzone due to probable cause of inappropriate conduct. 

Records of subsequent e-mail communication show Broward County Public Schools director of instructional staffing said she could accept Falzone's resignation after an attorney told her, "We have a sub under investigation who is being recommended for removal and would rather resign with the understanding he won't be eligible for rehire."

Falzone submitted a May 5, 2014, resignation letter, but records show a note saying the county received it "1 hour prior to RSBM (Regular School Board Meeting) on 5/6/14. Cannot accept, too late." 

The School Board of Broward County terminated Falzone's employment at Sheridan Hills, where he had worked as the afterschool director and as substitute teacher. Falzone also received a letter from the Broward District Schools Police Department Chief informing him that his May 6, 2014 termination disqualified him from future employment with the school district. 

"I tried to do everything I could to make sure justice was served," the mother of the former Sheridan Hills victim said. "And they told me there wasn't enough evidence that my daughter got groped 20 to 30 times."

Records show Falzone didn't stay away from children in Broward or abandon his plans to become a fulltime certified teacher in Florida after his termination.

Without a criminal record, Charter Schools USA hired Falzone as an intensive math teacher in August 2015, and the Florida Department of Education reviewed his 2016 Florida Educator Certificate application. His failure to submit information requested rendered his application invalid on February 2017, records show

Falzone was working at Charter Schools USA's Renaissance Charter School at Cooper City when he was arrested Aug. 13 on one count of lewd and lascivious conduct in the case of the Camp Live Oak victim, and he was released Aug. 16 on a $25,000 bond with an electronic monitor and a house arrest agreement.

"Our highest priority is the safety and security of our students," Reynolds said in a statement after the Aug. 13 arrest.

On Aug. 23, court records show Broward County prosecutors filed a separate case against Falzone that involved four victim notifications. Prosecutors charged Falzone with four counts of lewd and lascivious molestation, six counts of sexual assault and four counts of lewd and lascivious conduct. The Aug. 24 booking report identified the victims as younger than 12 years old. 

A parent recently filed another $5 million civil lawsuit accusing Charter Schools USA's Renaissance Charter School at Cooper City of negligence for an alleged failure to acknowledge a mother's warnings that Falzone had been accused of pedophilic grooming and child sex abuse.

"One more example of a school administrator not protecting students from sexual abuse by a teacher. attorney Jeff Herman, who is representing the parent in the lawsuit, recently said. "The alleged failure to investigate and remove Falzone after the mother’s warnings are disgraceful."

The filing law enforcement agency in the most recent child sex abuse criminal case against Falzone is the Broward Sheriff's Office-Cooper City, records show. Broward Circuit Judge Martin Fein is handling the pending criminal cases. Attorney Viviane Gariboldi is his public defender. 

About the Authors:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.