school employee background checks

Missouri Boarding School Sues to Halt Background Check Requirement

A religious addiction recovery organization in Missouri that also operates a boarding school sued the state, alleging that a new law would unfairly compel them to perform background checks. Calling the checks "invasive," the group, CNS International Ministries, demanded to be released from the requirement. CNS operates programs for recovering addicts as well as troubled children. As a religiously affiliated organization, it receives exemptions from state licensing requirements. 

Advocacy groups for children in Missouri praised the law as a means of closing a dangerous loophole, but CNS maintains that it is unfair to preclude those with certain criminal records from participating in the program or working with the school.  

CNS contends that the new background check laws violate a "ministerial exemption" precedent set by the Supreme Court in 2012, which established that religious groups should maintain the opportunity to make independent selections for who will promote their organization's message. Whether the courts will agree that CNS and its school programs should qualify for such an exemption solely because they promote religiously based addiction recovery efforts remains to be seen.  

Rigorous background checks can form an integral part of the effort to keep potentially risky individuals away from positions in which they will have access to the vulnerable. However, it may surprise parents to learn that for a religious organization, employee background checks may be a matter of managerial discretion rather than the law. Even if background checks are required by legislation, an organization’s logistics problems and poor follow-through can create gaps in the process. 

For example, a Baton Rouge school allowed a teacher with a criminal history to work on campus for nearly two weeks before completing a background check and learning adverse information. In New Mexico, a coach with a history of sexual abuse complaints was able to gain employment in Albuquerque due to severe under-staffing of the state's educational background checking team.  

Though they reflect poor procedures, these instances highlight why states such as Missouri seek to ensure that previously exempt institutions closely examine who they hire. 

Thorough vetting is essential in many scenarios, but especially in situations that involve direct access to and work with vulnerable populations such as the elderly or young children. A consistent procedure and strong governance are essential along with the right vetting tools. With some school districts struggling due to slow turnaround times, better and faster solutions for school background checks are essential. The same is true for religious groups.  

Such checks are far from "invasive" when organizations use them properly, and there are often state rules alongside federal legislation to prevent the misuse of background screening. Conducting due diligence and identifying potentially hazardous hires are essential steps in protecting a business or nonprofit from potential legal liabilities.  

For organizations, the next step towards peace of mind may be adopting faster and more robust screening tools when possible, such as those offered by backgroundchecks.com. Parents and caretakers may want to take a closer look at the requirements that an organization must meet in these areas. A fair, balanced, and fully informed onboarding process will deliver better outcomes for all parties.

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.

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