Stories of crimes committed against children are always heinous, but when they occur because of an abuse of trust and power, they are particularly tragic. Schools, youth sports organizations, and many others must face the challenges of keeping kids safe under their care. Unfortunately, as our roundup of new allegations from around the nation shows, that is not such an easy task.
New Arrests Span from Louisiana to California
In St. Louis, Missouri, a middle school substitute teacher faces charges based on allegations that he groomed a 14-year-old girl before committing statutory rape on multiple occasions. The behavior was only uncovered because a friend of the girl reported the teacher to school authorities, who immediately took action. The alleged perpetrator passed a thorough background check before hiring, said the school district.
In Louisiana, a bus driver who had passed a background check suddenly turned highly inappropriate attention onto a young student. Instead of letting her off the bus, the man refused to let her leave as he repeatedly made inappropriate statements. After arriving at another school, he finally allowed the girl to go. He now faces charges of kidnapping.
Two stories out of California relate to similar problems. In Redding, a wrestling coach will spend 16 years behind bars after his conviction for sexually assaulting five teenagers. In Danville, a cheerleading coach and teacher face charges of inappropriately touching a student and sending her lewd videos. Both these men underwent and passed background checks, though Danville police noted that the cheerleading coach had a prior arrest for supplying alcohol to a minor. Because it did not result in a conviction, it may not have appeared on the district's background check.
Finally, a special education teacher in Baltimore faces child pornography charges after being caught online. In this case, authorities don't believe the man had contact with any students under his care. Even so, these charges reveal that those students could have been in serious danger.
What Should School and Sports Employers Take Away?
For employers, especially in youth-related fields, perhaps the most disturbing part of these recent news stories is the knowledge that several alleged offenders passed thorough background checks. In most cases, these individuals did not appear dangerous on paper. Only in one instance was there potentially disqualifying information available, which means even considering arrest records can be fraught with potential legal risks based on your jurisdiction.
This does not diminish the importance or utility of the pre-employment background check, but it does highlight that such checks cannot prevent all harm and wrongdoing. Employers should still endeavor to be as thorough as possible in checking the backgrounds of those working with or around children.
Unfortunately, predicting how everyone will behave on the job is impossible. Therefore, having procedures in place to mitigate opportunities for harm is essential. Such policies might include a prohibition against leaving children under the supervision of a single adult. Creating a safe way to report inappropriate contact could help too. Such steps are only sometimes possible, and it’s challenging to control whether staff use social media to communicate with children inappropriately beyond the official context.
Schools must be ready to respond to allegations of wrongdoing quickly. Keeping kids safe begins with a background check before hiring an individual, but it can't end there. These stories show a pressing need to maintain a high level of vigilance at every stage of employment—not just hiring.
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