Pastor Clarence Clark is a big part of the reason why the Hernando County School Board in Florida is now considering removing some of the extra restrictions included in its background check policy. After a long history of volunteering, mentoring, and coaching in the district, logging thousands of hours since 2000, Clark was told he could no longer interact with kids after failing a background check in May of 2013.
The criminal background check on Clark revealed a guilty plea for charges of grand theft and uttering a forged instrument. Clark stole three checks from his employer, cashed one for $450, and tried but failed to cash another. All of this took place in 1996. Clark has always been open about his past and admits that though he was a drug addict in 1996, he has since cleaned up his act. Many members of the local community agree. In fact, Clark might make a better role model for kids than someone with a clean record precisely because he has overcome these challenges far in his past they say.
Clark’s case brought the district’s overly strict background check rules into the public eye. The district’s policy adds five extra disqualifying convictions to the state’s background check policy: felony possession of a concealed weapon, misdemeanor drug possession, misdemeanor assault and/or battery, animal cruelty, and certain frauds and thefts. According to the district’s safety and security manager, Barry Crowley, these extra requirements are causing some issues in practice. For example, Crowley stated that some teachers are legally permitted to work in the schools, but can’t serve as volunteer tutors after school. Also, Crowley said that some existing employees have not been made to comply with the expanded background check policy, which seems unfair.
It is of course understandable for the district to want to take every possible measure to protect the kids in its care. Using a background check is an excellent step towards this goal, but the results of the background check need to be considered case by case and for each individual uniquely. A national background check product like the US OneSEARCH check from backgroundchecks.com can instantly reveal public criminal records associated with an individual’s name and date of birth, but it is up to the employer (or the school officials) to review these records and determine the bearing any convictions may have on the individual’s ability to safely perform the job in question.
Upon hearing of the controversy surrounding the district’s new background check policy, state officials released a statement urging the district to abandon the extra restrictions and adopt the uniform screening standards established by the Department of Education in Florida. School board members in Hernando County seem willing to follow the state’s mandate and relax their background check requirements. As board member John Sweeney put it, “We went above and beyond when it was permitted, and it was understandable. Now it’s not, and we’ll follow the law.”