No criminal check on Minneapolis choir director accused of sexual assault

  • Article by: PATRICE RELERFORD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 26, 2009 - 7:14 AM

Minneapolis public schools confirmed that Gregory B. Washington, who has a past conviction for sexual assault, taught music in three district schools. He's currently facing charges in a similar incident.

A local gospel singer and choir director who has been charged with sexually assaulting an underage Brooklyn Park girl was a contract music teacher in three schools on Minneapolis' North Side, though he was on probation in connection with an earlier sexual assault.

Nobody with the district ran a criminal check on Gregory B. Washington before he was hired. District policy requires contractors to complete background checks on their employees and the district reserves the right to review individual employees records. But in this case, Washington owns Miraculous Music, a music production and education group that contracted to teach at the Jenny Lind Elementary/Olson Middle upper campus and Cityview Elementary School in September.

"I would have to be honest and say our implementation of [the background check policy] hasn't been perfect," said Margaret Westin, Minneapolis schools' general counsel. "We know this is something we need to work on."

And Washington's company was never asked to run a criminal check on its employees. Instead, the business mistakenly went through a vetting process for groups that don't have direct contact with students. It requires proof of insurance and other documentation but doesn't always include criminal checks.

This isn't the first recent case of an instructor being accused of sexually assaulting a student in a metro school. Last school year, a hockey coach in the Robbinsdale district and a self-defense instructor in Forest Lake schools were charged with criminal sexual conduct, accused of having sex with underage girls.

Those cases and discrepancies around criminal background check policies from school to school led Education Minnesota, the state's teacher's union, and legislators to call for tougher state screening rules for adults who have contact with students.

"It's just nauseating when these things happen. It seems like no matter what we do, sexual abusers sneak through the cracks," Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville and chairwoman of the state House Education Finance Committee, said at the time.

Susan Eilertsen, Minneapolis schools communications chief, said the school board approved the contract with Miraculous Music in September.

Olson Principal Karon Cunningham reportedly heard rumors about Washington's past sexual misconduct in November and told him he could no longer work in the schools. Eilertsen said Cunningham reported the rumors to the school district's legal department.

"The contract is still in place [through June], but we're writing a letter to terminate it immediately," Eilertsen said.

Miraculous Music's website features professional portraits of Washington, who also goes by the name MiracG. Thomas Kelly, Washington's lawyer, would not comment on the current charges or the extent of his client's work in schools.

In the current case, the Brooklyn Park girl was 15 at the time the assaults allegedly took place in her home and his Plymouth home. The girl's mother discovered the alleged sexual nature of their relationship after she learned he had given the girl a ring and after the mother read explicit text messages the two exchanged, the charges say.

Washington was convicted in a similar incident in St. Paul more than 10 years ago that involved another 15-year-old girl.

Washington is also the director of Voices of Praise, a Minneapolis gospel group, and the choir director at the Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in south Minneapolis. At the time of the St. Paul assault, he was the music director at Zion Baptist Church in north Minneapolis.

Eilertsen said Minneapolis schools haven't received any complaints or allegations of abuse against Washington from parents, teachers or students.

"We have a policy that no outside providers are alone with any students at any time," she said. That applies "whether it's a special teacher or program that comes into the schools."

Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395

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