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Dryades YMCA head retires amid background check investigations

Doug Evans told WWL-TV that he began planning to retire in November, a month before the school was cited.
Credit: WWLTV

NEW ORLEANS — The longtime head of a historic YMCA has retired and the chief financial officer has resigned as evidence of allegedly falsified criminal background checks of employees at the Y’s affiliated elementary school have been turned over to police.

The Dryades YMCA Board of Directors turned over evidence to the New Orleans Police Department of falsified criminal background checks for at least 10 employees of James M. Singleton Charter School, a K-8 public school the YMCA operates, board chairwoman Barbara Lacen-Keller said.

In addition to turning the records over to the NOPD, Lacen-Keller said the Y’s board is also hiring a forensic accountant to review financial records and a private investigator to figure out who may have falsified the employees’ background checks.

The Dryades YMCA's CEO, Doug Evans, retired this week and the organization's chief financial officer, Catrina Reed, resigned Friday, board members confirmed.

“We’re not playing. This is serious, OK?” Lacen-Keller said. “This should have never happened, and we want to make sure it will never happen again.”

Doug Evans retired for a second time as president and CEO after more than 45 years at the Dryades YMCA, which was founded in 1905 as a segregated institution for Black youth.

Evans initially retired in 2014 after leading one of only five historically Black YMCAs left in the U.S. through a devastating fire in 2000 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But Evans came out of retirement in 2018 to run the Y and Singleton Charter School.

But Lacen-Keller said Wednesday she has seen no evidence that Evans or anyone in his family did anything wrong. Evans was serving as CEO on an interim basis for the last few years and was planning to retire for good before the problems with the background checks began, Lacen-Keller said.

Evans told WWL-TV that he began planning to retire in November. In December the school was cited by New Orleans Public Schools for failing to perform background checks on all its staff. The school claimed it completed background checks for its remaining staff members, but when the school district’s director of accountability went to Singleton Charter School earlier this month to review the background checks, she found major problems, according to a letter issued by NOLA-PS on March 10.

The letter by NOLA-PS Chief School Accountability Officer Kevin George says the review found the school employed someone who had been convicted of a crime that should have excluded them, by law, from working at a school.

Carlos Hornbrook, the YMCA’s vice chairman, said the employee had been convicted of a sex crime involving a minor.

George’s letter says the district’s review found 10 Singleton employees with State Police background checks in the schools files that the State Police had no record of ever performing. Several had duplicate audit codes that should be unique to each individual, some listed no rap sheet for employees who did in fact have arrest records and some had incorrect police signatures, George wrote.

The findings were first reported by the news website The Lens.

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Asked who should be held responsible for the background check issues, Evans said he would let the investigation determine that.

“This piece is being looked at and I’ve separated myself from the organization so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on what happened,” he told WWL-TV. “That’s what the investigation will show.”

Asked if he bore any responsibility, he said, “I’ve always taken full responsibility for anything that occurred under my watch.”

One of those recent incidents was a December 2019 school bus crash that sent 15 students to the hospital. The bus flipped coming down the Interstate 10 high rise bridge over the Industrial Canal on Dec. 18, 2019. WWL-TV discovered that same day that the driver, Chad Rodney, had a criminal cocaine conviction that should have barred him from driving children and also lacked a required city school bus operator’s permit.

At the time, Evans said his staff was aware of Rodney’s criminal record but didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to drive the school bus because of it. He also said his team never checked to see if Rodney had the proper city permit.

Singleton Charter School has made major academic strides in the last few years after it was placed on probation for failing grades and Lacen-Keller replaced the school's leadership.

Evans said he was proud of the YMCA's programs in Central City, including a food distribution program, a water safety program and a new basketball court and planned music studio in partnership with 2K Foundations, a charity affiliated with the videogame maker 2K Sports.