Investigative Summary:

Texas lawmakers passed a plan demanding a solution that warns schools and other child welfare agencies of state workers fired or reprimanded for misconduct. The do-not-hire search engine would pull thousands of disciplinary records from four state agencies, but we found lawmakers did not appropriate enough funding to complete it, and critical information would be missing under current plans.

LAMPASAS, Texas (KXAN) — On Megan Tabor’s wedding day to Kasey Calvery, there was no way to anticipate the pain her husband-to-be would cause. Nearly two decades later, they’re divorced — and he is at a state prison in Huntsville, Texas, convicted of sexually abusing a member of Tabor’s family.

The girl whom Calvery abused came forward years after the abuse ended, and when she did, Tabor said it was to stop him from hurting someone else.

“It hit too close to home. She couldn’t keep quiet anymore,” Tabor said.

Her courage and a court filing in what became a criminal case against Calvery for continuous sexual abuse brought to light a history of misconduct stretching far beyond their family. It highlighted systemic issues with how Texas vets people who work around children and how, over the years, attempts to close the loopholes in Texas have fallen short.

Slipping through the cracks

           man in a cowboy hat

Photo of Kasey Calvery from a family album (KXAN Photo)

In February 2023, Lampasas prosecutors filed a two-page letter listing allegations against Calvery dating back to his time as a firefighter in Longview, Texas. Years before he began teaching, the court filing showed the city of Longview forced Calvery to resign after a fellow firefighter accused him of touching her breast.

At his next job as a paramedic in Copperas Cove, court and personnel records show he was fired after he admitted to inappropriately touching a patient in the back of an ambulance.

As a result, Texas Health and Human Services emergency suspended his license in 2008, and a local reporter even wrote an article on the incident in the paper. The City of Copperas Cove declined to comment further because it was a personnel matter. 

Despite his past, court records show he went on to work around children. First, at a residential facility in Goldthwaite for boys and girls with emotional and behavioral problems called New Horizons. HHSC inspection reports show that at one point, he was banned from physically restraining the children there for 60 days and put on a corrective action plan.

Calvery then went to work as a behavioral intervention teacher at Lampasas Independent School District in 2012, and then as a special education teacher at Copperas Cove Independent School District until 2018. He was a special education teacher and coach at Ector County Independent School District up until an Odessa High School student reported sexual abuse in 2020.  

A grand jury in Ector County decided not to indict Calvery based on the report at Odessa High School, but news of the decision was the catalyst for Tabor’s family member to go to police about her own abuse.

Calvery did not respond to the letter we sent him in prison, and his attorney did not provide a statement after several emails asking questions about his client.

A state solution with flaws

Calvery’s work history underscores why, in recent years, Texas lawmakers have passed bills addressing the state’s issues with background checks that lead to bad actors gaining employment around vulnerable populations.

“Evil is always going to find a crack to try to slip through, and our job is to expose those cracks and then fix those cracks,” said Texas State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.

In 2023, on the heels of a backgrounding issue at a Bastrop residential facility for sex-trafficked teens, Sen. Kolkhorst’s Senate Bill 1849 sought to create one search engine that allowed access to do-not-hire databases from the Texas Education Agency, Juvenile Justice Department, Health and Human Services and the Department of Family Protective Services.

The state requires school districts and other facilities that care for children to run background checks on employees. These checks can produce criminal records but don’t clearly show state agency misconduct records and do-not-hire warnings. The search engine would allow employers access to one central repository to screen for red flags in a prospective employee’s history.

But despite the bill’s passing, the plan to create the search engine still has cracks. Disciplinary records on law enforcement officers kept by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement are not set to be included. This means employers would potentially miss out on records showing whether a prospective employee is a former officer whose TCOLE license has been suspended or revoked over misconduct. The data would only be immediately available to schools or other police departments for hiring.

According to the agency, while HHSC’s Misconduct Registry will be accessible through the search engine, its licensing data will not. The licensing search was the only query that noted a disciplinary issue with Calvery until 2024. It showed the emergency suspension of Calvery’s EMT license in 2008 following the allegations that he inappropriately touched a patient.

“Yeah, that would be something that could be included, for sure,” Kolkhorst said. But it’s a fix she said will likely need to come from additional legislation.

“You’re kind of looking at, now, we’re going to spread 1849 out,” Kolkhorst said.

Although some of this data, including HHSC’s license search, is available online, many school districts and other employers in child settings limit their searches and reference checks to the work history provided by a job candidate. In the case of Calvery, Ector CISD officials said he left several of his previous work experiences off his resume, including his time at Longview Fire Department, Copperas Cove Fire Department and New Horizons.

That’s the main problem the search engine aims to fix by creating one central repository for employers to search a name and see results from multiple agencies’ misconduct records; even those the employer is not aware would have records on the candidate.

KXAN found the legislation is also facing funding challenges. Officials with Texas Health and Human Services told KXAN that additional legislative resources during the next session would be necessary to implement SB 1849 and start using the search engine.

The Department of Information Resources, or DIR, is tasked with designing the search engine. Lawmakers appropriated $8 million in the last regular session for the project. Kolkhorst said the search engine is projected to cost between $17 million and $23 million.

“They said, ‘here’s the seed money […] because it won’t be accomplished if we put the full amount in upfront, you know, it’ll sit idle,’” Kolkhorst said. “I know that all of us have a commitment. I believe Senate Bill 1849 was unanimous, and it will be funded, and it will be fully funded and operational.”

What’s next?

The law requires DIR and all the participating state agencies to enter a memorandum of understanding, specifying each agency’s roles and duties in establishing and maintaining the database. However, nearly eight months after the bill became law, agency officials say they have not signed an agreement.

The memorandum is being drafted, but according to DIR officials, it will not be finalized until after the assessment and work plan are completed to determine each agency’s roles and responsibilities.

In April, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick added SB 1849 to the list of issues he wants lawmakers to study and recommend improvements before the next legislative session.

Both Kolkhorst and Sen. Paul Bettencourt already vowed to file new legislation that adds school contractors to the list of school personnel that the Texas Education Agency can investigate. Problem contractors could then be added to the agency’s Do Not Hire list and subsequently to the anticipated search engine.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath highlighted his agency’s inability to compel school districts to report contractors for alleged misconduct in a letter to Sen. Bettencourt. He wrote it following KXAN’s investigation into a non-profit tutor who was able to get an assignment at an Austin Independent School District high school. Records show that, at the same time, TJJD was investigating him for sexual misconduct.

Sen. Kolkhorst said the search engine needs to be available to school districts immediately but added it will likely not be operational until fall 2025. HHSC officials said in hearings on SB 1849 that the search engine will be released in phases. In the first phase, the TEA, DFPS, HHSC, and TJJD will have access to the search engine. Access will be expanded in the second phase.  

Where’s Calvery now?

Calvery is set to be in prison for 25 years, but while he is imprisoned, and likely still when he gets out, his name will be in the TEA’s Do Not Hire database. The agency added his name and revoked his teaching certificate after he was convicted in August.

Records of Calvery’s misconduct are scattered and fragmented across the state. Many documents reflecting Calvery’s work history have been purged from the city, school districts and facilities where he used to be employed because of the state laws dictating how long records must be stored.

Copperas Cove ISD officials said it purged district files on Calvery in September 2023, a month after providing his records to KXAN in a public information request. The district said the purge was due to the district’s retention schedule. In response to our follow-up questions about the personnel file we obtained and Calvery’s time at the district, officials said they could not respond because they no longer had the documents in their possession.

New Horizon officials said they no longer have records on Calvery and, therefore, can’t talk about him because of how long ago he worked there. The program administrator said the state only requires facilities to maintain records for a year after an employee’s last work date.

If not for his conviction, records on Calvery’s history would have likely faded out of the public record entirely, widening the blind spots for those entrusted with protecting the most vulnerable.

Digital Data Reporter Christopher Adams, Graphic Artist Wendy Gonzalez, Director of Investigations & Innovation Josh Hinkle, Lead Editor Eric Lefenfeld, Investigative Photojournalist Christopher Nelson, Graphic Artist Christina Staggs, Investigative Reporter Avery Travis and Digital Director Kate Winkle contributed to this report.