Educational institutions face an incredible burden: how to keep students safe in the face of a more complex threat environment than ever before. While much attention has rightfully focused on protecting students from threats outside the school building, educators cannot overlook the continued importance of strict diligence concerning internal affairs.
It is an unfortunate fact that some teachers, placed in a position of power and authority over young minds, abuse their position for personal gratification. The abuse they inflict upon students can have both immediate and long-lasting effects that cause immeasurable damage.
Three recent news stories from around the nation illustrate the sinister nature of this threat and how challenging it can be to safeguard students. At the same time, these stories shine a light on the vital importance of teacher background checks — even if they can't always prevent a future incident from occurring.
In North Carolina, a group of former students filed a federal lawsuit against their school district, alleging that a pattern of negligence allowed a theater teacher to systematically groom and sexually abuse them. Worse still, the students allege the damage was avoidable, but the school district was not thorough enough in their pre-employment background check.
The teacher in question had previously been subject to termination at a previous school after allegations of sexual relationships with students. Although the school district claimed it used a background check and found no evidence of past wrongdoing, it seems clear there was an insufficient amount of due diligence.
In Florida, a teacher under an active state investigation for having inappropriate contact with a student was able to find employment with a different school. The school that hired the man said that a background check turned up no information, but state investigators said the district never contacted references that would have revealed the disqualifying information to them.
In another part of Florida, a school dean faces charges for assaulting a 14-year-old girl during a late-night gym session on the school campus. While neither a background check nor ongoing criminal monitoring would have raised red flags in this case—the man had a clean record—the circumstances alone merit suspicion and raise questions. How was a teacher allowed to bring a student onto campus alone late at night?
Each of these stories illustrates the dangers that educational institutions and their students face. They also highlight how challenging it can be to protect children. However, no matter the challenge, educational employers must ensure they do everything possible to maintain a safe environment.
Those efforts must include rigorous oversight in the hiring process and a concerted effort to prevent inappropriate behavior on campus. In so many stories, students say their complaints went unheard and ignored or were covered up entirely. Educators today cannot stand for such lax attitudes. A better way is necessary to make the school the safe space it should always be.
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