A newly-filed lawsuit against a Michigan private school should serve as an important wake-up call for administrators everywhere. Showcasing what can happen when background checks for schools aren't far enough, the organization is now embroiled in both a costly legal battle and a public PR fight. Called The Potter's House, the Christian school faces allegations that it knowingly allowed a dangerous individual to work in a position where he could potentially abuse children.
After a teacher was arrested on sexual abuse allegations, his felony level was ultimately reduced to a single misdemeanor that required two weeks in jail, probation, and registration as a sex offender. The victim's mother, citing the lax sentencing, filed a civil suit against the school seeking additional damages.
According to the facts of the case, a young girl was left alone in the company of an individual working as an "artist in residence" at the school. He then committed acts of abuse through this position of power. The suit says that a school guidance counselor had raised red flags about the man's behavior as early as 2016. Unfortunately, he was ignored due to a personal friendship between the man and the school's superintendent.
The suit claims that the school is in violation of federal Title IX requirements because of its failure to properly use teacher background checks and its repeated shielding of the offender. The plaintiffs seek $25,000 in damages, but ultimately the suit could force leadership and structural changes at the school.
Schools Must Meet Title IX Requirements
What is Title IX, and how does it apply here? Simply put, the Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex. Failing to protect individuals of a protected class, such as women, from such discrimination is therefore illegal. This includes failing to protect individuals from harm such as sexual abuse. Not only did the school fail to use any background checks on the alleged offender, but they also had no written Title IX policy—a violation in and of itself.
What Does a Proper Criminal Background Check for Schools Look Like?
In short, we can say with confidence that the private school named in the lawsuit did virtually nothing correctly in its handling of the situation. Thorough background checks are necessary, but a policy to back up their use is also critical. This includes the practice of fairly and consistently using background checks for everyone in an organization—no exceptions.
Schools must use a comprehensive policy for the background screening of school employees. This approach should include license verification, criminal background checks, looking at any relevant state educational databases, and more. Though these steps can take time and may eliminate some candidates from contention, their benefits outweigh the investment required.
The Benefits of a Smart and Strong Policy
With the right background checks for schools, it's possible to not mere protection from lawsuits and legal peril, but also to create a safer environment for all students. Ultimately, the primary goal of all these steps is to protect students and keep bad actors out of positions they can abuse to cause harm. As the lawsuit against the Michigan school proceeds, all educators should reflect on the need to create a better, safer space for children collectively.
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