For schools and other educational organizations, protecting the safety of the students in their care is perhaps the number one responsibility alongside teaching. Every individual working in the care of students should be a safe, honorable person that parents can trust to protect their children and watch over them appropriately. Unfortunately, as we know, that doesn’t always happen. Over the years, numerous guardrails have been put in place to reduce risks and increase the likelihood that those approved to work in schools are indeed suitable for the job.
Those guardrails, especially the criminal background check process, only work when there is appropriate buy-in from all those involved in the effort. State regulators in Delaware recently completed a far-reaching audit of the state-level Department of Education alongside all 19 of the state’s school districts. The goal: determine how closely these entities complied with the law and assess where shortcomings existed.
In Delaware, the law requires schools to do more than conduct a background check. They must also carefully review all the materials associated with the vetting process and make an affirmative decision that the checked individual would be a safe, suitable hire. This step ensures that the background check has an effective purpose rather than representing little more than security theater.
Based on the state’s audits, the great majority of reviewed districts — and even the state DOE — fell short of full compliance. This failure was often tied to incomplete or insufficient reviews of the criminal record reports. While the state did not identify any incidents in which such shortcomings led to actual harm or potentially dangerous situations, they nonetheless correctly identified this issue as a serious risk. Even the Department of Education received criticism for failing to have “adequate processes and internal controls” governing background checks.
All the audit reports provided the districts with extensive and detailed recommendations for improving their processes and coming into full compliance. Because the most recent investigation examined records from 2014 to 2019, it is unclear when or if the state auditors will revisit the issue to ensure compliance has occurred.
Even so, the results of this audit offer an important insight: a criminal background check is only at its most effective when those ordering them take the time to review them carefully. These detailed reports can contain essential facts that require more than a glance to analyze — they may need a follow-up. For example, when a candidate has an open case, it is worth exploring further into state and county records to determine whether that should impact a hiring decision.
A well-formulated process is not enough for schools, youth sports organizations, and the many other institutions that watch over children. That process requires rigorous enforcement and oversight to ensure that no one cuts corners. Only then can these organizations develop a stronger sense of confidence in the safety of their environment.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments