By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
WEST SALEM TOWNSHIP —
Terri L. McCloskey asks to be judged by how she is, not by how she was.
At one time she was a “naive, stupid farm girl,” as evidenced by her conviction on a drug charge. Now, she considers herself a responsible person devoted to her children.
But, when it comes to finding a job, her past appears to be an overriding factor.
McCloskey was fired as a school bus driver more than a year ago because of that drug conviction. The best job she has been able to get since then is cleaning houses, she said.
“I don’t think I’m a horrible person, but try to get a job, now,” the 49-year-old West Salem Township woman said.
Even though she received $42,000 in a settlement with Jamestown Area School District over her firing, she remains bitter at the state Board of Education and the fate of people like her, who own up to youthful mistakes and then seem to have to pay for them the rest of their lives.
“Just because you did it once doesn’t mean you’ll do it again,” she said.
McCloskey pleaded guilty in 1985 to a charge of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. She was sentenced to 2 to 12 months in jail, paroled after 2 months, and released from parole June 15, 1987, according to her federal lawsuit.
In 2004, she was hired by Frye Inc., Greenville, to drive a school bus.
“I told everybody,” she said of the conviction. “You know, when they run the (background) check, it’s going to come back.”
She drove the bus until January 2012, when she was fired based on a newly enacted law that banned people convicted of certain crimes from working in public schools.
McCloskey filed a federal lawsuit May 24, 2012, charging Jamestown, Superintendent Shane Murray and the state Secretary of Education with civil rights violations.
State Commonwealth Court in December deemed the lifetime ban provisions to violate the state Constitution, but it did not mean that McCloskey could get her job back.
“I was a naive, stupid farm girl that believed men,” she said of the conviction, “I did something stupid like everyone else does in their 20s.”
She told Frye about the conviction when she was hired, and successfully passed numerous random drug tests over the years of her service, she said.
She said she feels bad for the school board, which now is getting negative publicity for having done something that was legal at the time – hiring her.
The state Board of Education should be held accountable for its no-quarter interpretation of the law, she said.
Instead, the state got out from under the suit without having to contribute to the settlement. The district was on the hook for $5,000 of the total $70,000 settlement – McCloskey’s attorneys get $28,000 – with the district’s insurance carrier paying the rest.
McCloskey said she was thankful The Herald broke the story of the settlement amounts on Father’s Day. Her father, Jim Hood, who died in March, supported her lawsuit.
“My dad told me he was proud of me for the first or second time in my life for fighting them,” she said. “He said it wasn’t right what they did.”
She said she enjoyed driving a school bus because it allowed her to be home when her children were home.
“I liked it because it worked well for my situation,” she said.
McCloskey said she hopes a couple of bills pending in the General Assembly will eventually help those like her.
House Bill 908 would allow someone convicted of a crime to seek expungement of the record if he or she has remained “free of arrest or prosecution” for seven years after release from incarceration. Someone convicted of a serious crime of violence, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, many sex offenses and other crimes could not seek expungement.
“All too often, mistakes that people have already paid for continue to prevent them from gainful employment and housing throughout their life,” says a memo for House Bill 908 posted with the bill by Reps. Jordan Harris, Ronald Waters and Patty Kim.
HB 909 calls for automatic expungement of criminal records if a person has been acquitted, proceedings have been indefinitely postponed, charges are dismissed or law enforcement, prosecutors or a grand jury decide not to prosecute.
McCloskey asked Mercer County’s legislators – none of its three representatives are listed as bill co-sponsors – to support the bills.
“I don’t mean to be bitter,” she said of how people latch onto her conviction, not how she has lived her life since then. “It does bother me.”