Osbourn Park teacher had hidden past
Prince William County Schools last year hired a doctor to teach math at Osbourn Park High School — a doctor whose license was suspended due in part to sexual misconduct with his patients.
The schools’ personnel office verified that Todd P. Berner of Fairfax Station was employed as a math teacher for the 2001-02 school year, but would not say where he taught or how much of the school year he worked. A woman in the office, who identified herself as B. Simpson, said such information is not available because of confidentiality policies.
Virginia Board of Medical Records show that the license of Berner, an obstetrician/gynecologist, was suspended for at least one year because of “inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature with several patients.” He also claimed to practice medicine while he was ordered not to do so by the board, and his lies endangered the health of a patient and her unborn child, according to a medical board report.
Jim Clark, an Alexandria attorney representing a woman who is suing Berner in Fairfax County Circuit Court for the same alleged inappropriate sexual misconduct, said this week that he could confirm that Berner was a teacher at Osbourn Park High School near Manassas.
During a Dec. 27, 2001 deposition in the civil suit, Berner stated that he was a math teacher at Osbourn Park, Clark said.
Clark said he did not know if Berner started teaching at the beginning of the school year or how long he taught there.
Osbourn Park’s current Web site that lists all teachers’ and administrators’ e-mail addresses does not include Berner’s.
Osbourn Park Principal Timothy Healy was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Robert Ferrebee, associate superintendent for management, said the school district does extensive checking into the backgrounds of potential employees. Ferrebee’s duties include oversight of the personnel office.
“We have a good system,” Ferrebee said. “We do more than most and we do catch things.”
Criminal background checks through fingerprinting are done. “We do that on every employee that we hire,” Ferrebee said. “If someone hasn’t been convicted of a crime, we wouldn’t know about [any alleged misconduct].”
Clark, who has researched Berner’s background as part of his work on the lawsuit, said he was unaware of any convictions.
The school district also checks past references, and previous employers are contacted. Additionally, credit histories of those applying for financial positions with the school district are checked.
Ferrebee said he could not discuss Berner specifically due to personnel confidentiality. However, discovering that a doctor wanted to be employed as a school teacher would not necessarily indicate any potential problems.
“We get a lot of career-changers,” Ferrebee said. Often, people will decide to take a break from their current careers to try another, he said.
Lengthy breaks in a person’s employment history or an indication that the person changes jobs frequently are more likely to cause the personnel office to take a closer look at an applicant, Ferrebee said.
On occasion the district does hire people whose past histories contain information that would indicate they would not be appropriate candidates to work in a school, Ferrebee said.
“Some do fall through the cracks,” Ferrebee said.
“I don’t know to what extent we can go to [to check applicant’s backgrounds],” Ferrebee said. “We can’t go out and do full FBI profiles on everyone.”
Prince William Schools hire between 1,000 and 2,000 employees each year.
Anna Marie Morgan, president of the Osbourn Park Parent Teacher Organization, said she did not know the teacher but was concerned to learn about his background.
“It’s upsetting that there isn’t procedures in place to prevent this from happening,” Morgan said. “We don’t want this to happen again.”
Berner’s problems with the Virginia Board of Medicine could easily have been accessed through the Internet, said Robert Nebiker, state director of the Department of Health Professions. The department oversees a number of state boards, including the medical board.
Disciplinary actions taken by the state medical board are available at http://www.vahealthprovider.com.
Several people and organizations have contacted the medical board about Berner. They include 39 members of the public, the District of Columbia and New York medical boards, four hospitals, 10 health care insurance providers and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Nebiker said.
Nebiker said he did not know if the Prince William County School District sought information on Berner.
Berner’s attorney, Tara McCarthy of Manassas, declined to comment and said she advised her client also not to comment.
Berner practiced at Primary Care for Women in Falls Church.
State medical board information on Berner does not include his age.
However, it does include that he graduated from medical school in Mexico in 1983 before pursuing further medical training.
Until he lost his license, Berner told the state that he has been in OB/GYN for 12 years.
Berner’s medical license was indefinitely suspended on Oct. 2, 2001.
The order filed against Berner by the Virginia medical board stated that Berner’s license had first been placed on indefinite probation in March 2000 due to his “inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature” with two patients.
As part of his probation, Berner underwent a behavioral assessment in Chicago the following month.
“Dr. Berner failed to be completely honest and truthful with the … evaluators as evidenced by independent reports received [by two other patients],” the consent order stated.
One of these two other patients stated that Berner “touched her in a manner intended for his sexual arousal or gratification during the course of the examination,” the consent order stated.
As a result of the new allegations by these two other women, Berner’s license was once again placed on indefinite probation in May 2000 with a new restriction, that he was prohibited from examining and treating female patients, the consent order stated.
His license was eventually suspended the following year because of his inappropriate behavior toward the four patients, in addition to behavior regarding a fifth patient.
The behavior in reference to the fifth patient was not sexual in nature. Instead, it concerned a series of “misrepresentations and falsification,” the order stated.
Nebiker said that the medical board notifies several national health care organizations and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency of disciplinary actions it takes against doctors. It also notifies any other state in which a sanctioned doctor also holds a medical license.
Berner had a medical license in New York. It was suspended following the action taken by the Virginia Board of Medicine. Berner also has a medical license in the District of Columbia. That license remains active.
The Virginia Board of Medicine also works with local law enforcement, even while it is investigating complaints, if it believes a crime might have been committed.
Nebiker said he could not specifically discuss Berner’s case. However, “it is not unusual that with this kind of conduct we would work with local law enforcement,” he said.
“Where local law enforcement and the commonwealth attorney take action — they have to decide that.”
Aside from Berner’s troubles with the state concerning sexual misconduct, he also settled a lawsuit in May with one of the women who had filed a complaint against him with the state medical board.
That woman is Clark’s client.
The lawsuit stated that during the course of a pelvic examination, Berner, without the woman’s permission or consent, “touched the plaintiff’s private parts in a manner intended for his sexual arousal and gratification and not incident to a legitimate medical examination.”
Afterward, Berner said to the woman “they were done playing and that he could get her pregnant,” the lawsuit stated.
Clark declined to say how much money received from Berner but described it as a “good settlement.”
Berner can apply to have his medical license reinstated in Virginia after Oct. 2.
Staff writer Aileen Streng can be reached at (703) 878-8010.