How can school administrators maintain confidence in the safety of the environments they oversee?
This question has only grown more complex in recent years as schools have grappled with external threats, such as the increasing threat of active shooters. However, while much attention has focused on such serious threats of violence, there are still many potential risk factors to manage within educational organizations, too.
Teachers, coaches, and even volunteers can all be in positions of authority and supervision over children. Some of these individuals may misuse this position to isolate and abuse children—unfortunately, we easily see dozens of such stories from across the nation every year. Fighting back against these forces requires a multi-pronged effort, and it is hard to overstate the importance of rigorous on-campus oversight and policy enforcement. Reducing the number of occasions that can lead to wrongdoing is an important step.
However, so too, is the hiring process. A criminal background check is a standard part of hiring for many school positions and is often a requirement by law. What happens when someone commits a crime after a school chooses to hire them? Without the right system in place, potentially dangerous individuals can fall through the cracks and continue to work with children based on older, outdated background checks.
An incident in Virginia perfectly demonstrates the problems that can arise. A school guidance counselor was arrested for soliciting a minor for sex in late 2020, and by early 2022, the man was convicted and required to register as a sex offender. He did so, but continued to show up for work. State police attempted to notify the school upon his conviction, but the email addresses available to the police were out of date and out of service. The man continued working as a counselor for months before a media firestorm ensued, and his employment was terminated.
A Virginia lawmaker has now spearheaded an effort to require a continuously-maintained registry of school contact information to streamline this reporting process.
This problem is not unique to schools in Virginia. Across the country, there are likely many school districts with very little structure in place to support the ongoing monitoring of their employees. Relying solely on the criminal justice system and law enforcement agencies to notify schools of an employee's wrongdoing can leave important information unseen for months.
Districts that employ an additional system for continuous monitoring of criminal records can build more peace of mind into their processes. While it still takes some time to notify employers of a new arrest or conviction, this process is much faster and more reliable.
Some schools may choose to re-check employees yearly, but even that process leaves many months where you could be in the dark about critical criminal information. Every school district and educational organization should take a step back and consider whether they have the right tools to maintain confidence in the suitability and safety of their workforce. The risk of the alternative is simply not an option.
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