Excerpted from The Gainesville Sun By Daniel Smithson and Sarah Nelson

Alachua County Public Schools on Tuesday fired 34-year-old paraprofessional Chad Purdy, who in 2012 confessed to detectives he was obsessed with a 12-year-old girl. The school district never knew.

Alachua County Public Schools fired an Oak View Middle School paraprofessional Tuesday after a district investigation concluded he violated School Board policy by interacting inappropriately with female students.

Chad Purdy, who worked at Oak View since 2017, was fired at Tuesday’s School Board meeting.

A Jan. 29 Alachua County Sheriff’s Office investigative report obtained by The Sun shows Purdy gave his cellphone number to students and texted at least two 14-year-old girls at the Newberry school during the 2018-19 school year.

The incident raises questions about the school system’s method for background checks: Through a court records search that took less than a minute, a Sun reporter found Alachua County court documents showing Purdy was ordered over a four-year span to have no contact with a 12-year-old he had developed feelings for.

Purdy did not answer multiple phone calls, nor did he return messages from The Sun seeking comment in recent weeks. His Facebook account was deleted after the investigation began.

Purdy, now 34, was first hired by the Alachua County School District as an activity leader in 2010 at Wiles Elementary.

Months after he left Wiles, Purdy was investigated for having an inappropriate relationship with the 12-year-old girl, having been her after-school counselor at one point and then her youth pastor. The girl’s mother discovered Purdy was frequently communicating with her daughter, even after the mother asked him to stop.

In a sworn complaint by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, he was accused of aggravated stalking and battery.

Deputies found 1,000 messages between the two on social media and cellphones, including one from Purdy that read, “You complete me,” according to the sworn complaint.

In the complaint, Purdy admitted he held the girl’s hands and kissed her forehead.

The girl shared a similar story, adding that Purdy sometimes would have her lay her head in his lap and hold his hands, while he placed his hands on her thighs.

Purdy later told law enforcement he had an “obsession” with the girl and would become upset when they couldn’t video chat.

He told investigators he had feelings for the girl that he ought to have for his wife, and if law enforcement hadn’t intervened, he could have seen the relationship turning sexual, according to the complaint.

In 2015, State Attorney Bill Cervone’s office dropped the case, citing insufficient evidence.

Despite the case being dropped, Cervone said, the records still would have come up in a background check.

“All of this is public, so anyone would be able to find it,” he said.

In 2017, Purdy was re-hired by Alachua County Public Schools, this time to work at Oak View Middle as a paraprofessional, a role that put him in direct contact with students. School system records show he cleared a second background check.

State law requires a background check every five years for employees. But individual school districts determine the screening method for those who apply for a district job that do not have teaching certifications, such as Purdy.

District spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said the school system’s background checks for non-certified instructors are like those conducted for certified teachers, including fingerprints and drug tests.

Through the fingerprints, hiring officials look to see if applicants have any history of criminal charges or arrests.

Because Purdy was neither charged nor arrested in the 2012 case, the district hired him once again.

School Board members say they have never given much thought into checking an applicant’s background beyond charges and arrests, saying they are confident relying on the system in place.

“I feel comfortable about the procedures in our district,” said board member Rob Hyatt. “But if procedures are not done in an adequate way, we’ll workshop the issue.”

School Board member Eileen Roy said it would be a great idea to take an extra step.

“We usually take the word of the courts,” she said.

In the most recent episode that brought the 2012 case to light, school investigators concluded he acted inappropriately with students.

Investigative reports from the school district and Sheriff’s Office show Purdy let girls drink tea out of his personal cup and eat lunch with him.

The report also said Purdy told one student via a written note to “turn her resting (expletive) face upside down” and not let a recent breakup get her down.

The report details parents furious over what they consider inappropriate behavior with female students.

Oak View Middle Principal Kelly Armstrong said he didn’t know about Purdy’s past until parents called in to complain about his behavior.

“The whole thing is unfortunate,” Armstrong said. “We always want what’s best for our children. Both sides were investigated in a fair way.”

Purdy also monitored eSchool students in the computer lab and helped out at the front desk. He was accused of allowing students to cheat and use their phones in the computer lab, but the school’s investigation committee found no evidence of that.

The committee found Purdy texted students, showed favoritism toward two female students and talked with students over social media. All three are violations of board policies regarding social media, ethics and student supervision.

In the school investigation report, Purdy denied showing preference to the two girls or talking with students on social media. He blamed his phone for accepting students’ Facebook friend requests, saying a reset glitch accepted all the requests at once.

The reason he gave out his cellphone number, he said, was in case students had issues with their eSchool account. He said he only texted them to keep up with their progress.

He also added he did not tell or allow students to drink out of the cup of tea.

Purdy pointed out to school investigators that he has never been arrested, and that since previous accusations against him were dropped for insufficient evidence, they should carry no weight in the recent investigation.

On Jan. 30, deputies concluded the incident would not produce criminal charges. On March 5, the district’s investigation committee decided to pursue disciplinary charges against Purdy.

Johnson, the schools’ spokeswoman, said school system officials are considering a review of the screening process to filter out similar applicants and avoid another case where someone “fell through the cracks.”

“We are looking at reviewing the screening process to see what we need to do in order to address that,” she said. “There are a lot of things we need to look at.”