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Teacher hired with child porn investigation pending

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GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man charged with child sex crimes was hired as a Wichita teacher last fall after a background check failed to uncover that he resigned from a southwest Kansas community college job amid a child pornography investigation.

Steven Thompson, 62, of Wichita, was charged this month with three counts of sexual exploitation of a child in Finney County, where he previously was a tenured computer science instructor at Garden City Community College.

Garden City Police Capt. Randy Ralston said school officials reported in September 2013 that child pornography was found on Thompson's work computer. Later, pornography also was found on another computer and external hard drives, Ralston said.

Thompson is free on bond. His attorney, Lucille Douglass, didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Wichita schools spokeswoman Susan Arensman told KWCH-TV that nothing showed up on the background check because Thompson hadn't been charged when he was hired in August 2015.

Thompson was working as a math teacher at Northeast Magnet High School when he was placed on paid administrative leave, said Arensman, who didn't immediately return an email from the AP seeking comment. Ralston said police haven't been notified of any problems with Thompson in Wichita.

The Kansas Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said Thompson applied for a license in September 2015, which is valid through the end of June.

Denise Kahler, a department spokeswoman, said applicants must submit fingerprints when applying for a license. But she added that nothing would show up without criminal charges.

The issue raised alarms among some parents.

"If they knew about this two years ago, why didn't that keep him from being employed as a teacher?" Latishia Darnell, mother of two students, told KWCH-TV. She added: "It seems like there was a gap in some processes there."

Thompson resigned voluntarily from Garden City Community College in February 2014, said Randy Grisell, the school's attorney. He said he couldn't elaborate, noting that it was "a confidential personnel action."

Grisell said that if asked, the institution would have told a prospective employer only Thompson's date of employment, pay level, job description and duties and wage history. Grisell said that if the college provides additional information it opens itself up to potential liability.

Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier said she did not know Thompson was teaching in Wichita until the day the charges were filed. She said it can take "a long period of time" to comb through all the information in electronic devices in computer forensic cases.

She said she couldn't comment further about the specifics of Thompson's case, noting the ongoing investigation.

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