Former education technician Zachariah Sherburne, who worked in two school districts and has been charged with sexually assaulting a student, lacked state approval to work in the classroom, according to state officials.

Sherburne worked in School Administrative Districts 55 and 6 until March 11, the day he turned himself in to authorities and four days before he was charged with having sex with an underage student.

“Maine DOE has no credentials on file for (Sherburne),” Maine Department of Education spokeswoman Anne Gabbianelli confirmed this week by email. “A school administrative unit is prohibited by statute and rule from hiring personnel that do not have the appropriate Educational Technician authorization and Criminal History Record Check approval for these positions in their school units.”

In some cases, the state issues a temporary, eight-week approval for school employees to allow them to work while the state runs a criminal background check. But Gabbianelli said the Department of Education never issued any temporary approval for Sherburne.

Sherburne, 23, of Porter, is charged with gross sexual assault, a felony, and sexual abuse of a minor, a misdemeanor. His alleged female victim is a 16-year-old student in School Administrative District 55 at Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram, where Sherburne worked as an ed tech. An ed tech helps teachers in a supportive role, and works directly with students.

Sherburne also worked in SAD 6, where his father, Frank Sherburne, is superintendent, despite a district nepotism policy that forbids hiring the relatives of the superintendent or board members.

After Sherburne’s arrest and questions about the nepotism policy, some SAD 6 parents started a petition calling for Frank Sherburne’s removal as superintendent. The SAD 6 school board has met in executive session with the district’s legal counsel to review the situation, and plans two more executive sessions Tuesday – one to meet with legal counsel and the second to discuss a personnel matter that is not specified on the agenda. The board also has a regular meeting Monday, but Sherburne is not mentioned on the agenda.

Zachariah Sherburne’s lack of state approval to work in the schools emerged after his arrest, when the Portland Press Herald asked the state to verify his teaching credentials and Gabbianelli said the DOE had issued no approvals of any kind, for any job category, for Sherburne, who was first hired in SAD 55 last November.

Under state law and Department of Education rules, all school employees must have proper authorization for their specific job category.

As a first step, all candidates for a school job, from janitor to superintendent, must be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check.

“Anyone who works with children in a school setting is required by law to be fingerprinted through a process approved by the Maine Department of Education … You won’t be issued any type of Maine certification until your fingerprints are on file,” reads the state statute on the education department’s website.

Sherburne had no prior criminal record in Maine, according to state records.

When asked if there were any circumstance under which someone could work as an ed tech or substitute teacher without Department of Education credentials or temporary approval, Gabbianelli said no.

Beyond the background check, Sherburne, who was hired in SAD 55 as an Ed Tech III, would have been required to provide transcripts for at least 90 semester hours of approved study to receive authorization to work as an Ed Tech III. If approved, he would have received state authorization, the term used for ed techs, rather than the “certification” that teachers receive.

By comparison, an Ed Tech I needs only a GED or high school diploma. A school psychologist must submit multiple documents, including a National Certified School Psychologist certificate; graduate and undergraduate transcripts; two references and an ethics compliance statement.

Under state law, the DOE can revoke the certification of a superintendent who has hired uncertified personnel.

On Friday, SAD 55 Superintendent Carl Landry said he could not answer questions about how Sherburne was allowed to work in his district without DOE approval, and whether the district had any documents indicating he had DOE approval.

“I am looking into your questions, although I know that you are aware that I will not be able to talk about individual employment matters or applications,” Landry said in an email.

Representatives of the SAD 6 administration and board, including the school district’s attorney, did not respond to requests for comment over several days about how Sherburne was allowed to work without DOE approval. Frank Sherburne has repeatedly refused to answer questions about his son’s employment and said Monday he does not speak to the media.

Education officials emphasize the importance of proper certification and authorization, which is extremely detailed and specific to each job title.

“Certification and authorization are the crucial elements that ensure our students are taught by educators who have the proper skills needed to do the job,” said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association. “In general, all teachers and ed techs should be able to achieve certification and authorization if they are placed in a classroom.”

Because Sherburne worked in two districts, both should have verified he had the appropriate authorization to work.

Sherburne worked for SAD 55, which includes Baldwin, Cornish, Hiram, Parsonsfield and Porter, from Nov. 4 to Feb. 12. He was hired on Feb. 8 in SAD 6, which includes the towns of Buxton, Hollis, Limington, Standish and Frye Island.

There is conflicting information about Sherburne’s job at SAD 55. According to approved school board minutes from November, Sherburne was hired as an Ed Tech III. But in an email about Sherburne’s credentials, the superintendent said Sherburne was hired as a substitute ed tech.

“Mr. Sherburne was hired as, and served as, a substitute Educational Technician for a single student, and as a substitute teacher in differing educational settings. He worked in the High School, Middle School, and Elementary School,” Landry wrote.

“In regard to DOE authorization/approval under Chapter 115, Mr. Sherburne was a substitute employee pursuant to Section 12 of Chapter 115,” Landry said, referring to the section of state law that spells out that a person can work for up to eight weeks under temporary approval while a criminal record check is conducted. “He did have an application pending before the DOE.”

Because of privacy laws, theDepartment of Education cannot say whether it ever received an application from Sherburne, according to Gabbianelli. But if he or the school district hiring him had applied for a criminal background check, department records would show a temporary approval had been issued. Sherburne had none.

Gabbianelli also ruled out the possibility that there might be a backlog of applications delaying a DOE approval, saying the DOE does not have a backlog in issuing temporary approvals for applications for criminal record checks. Applications for ed tech authorizations and teacher certifications are about four weeks behind, and the department is currently processing applications received April 4.

The Maine School Management Association declined to comment Friday when asked about certification issues, and referred questions to the Department of Education.