The Montana Office of Public Instruction is currently in the process of drafting new legislation that would require every school district in the state to conduct criminal background checks on their bus drivers prior to employment.
Many districts in the state already have significant employment screening processes in place for both bus drivers and teachers, as both positions give employees frequent close contact with children. However, an audit last spring called the state’s employment screening policies into question for bus drivers, finding that eight bus drivers in the state had records of some sort of undisclosed “moral conduct” that rendered their employment questionable. The audit indicated that the same instances of “immoral conduct” would not have been allowed to pass for state teachers, and therefore should not be ignored for bus drivers either.
The audit looked at records of all active school bus drivers in the state, a number that totals 1,435. Out of that 1,435, eight is at least a fairly miniscule percentage—0.557 percent, to be exact—but has still encouraged the Montana Office of Public Instruction to call for tighter employment restrictions for bus drivers.
The Office of Public Instruction’s plan for revamping bus driver background checks would demand that school districts run full background checks on bus driver applicants. However, according to a report from KAJ18.com, a local news source based in Kalispell, Montana, the people of the Montana Association of School Boards have their own ideas for how to implement stronger bus driver screening.
The school board association insisted that bus drivers could go through a two-pronged check for maximum effectiveness. The first step would take place at the state level, when prospective bus drivers apply with the state to get their commercial driver’s license. As far as the Montana Association of School Boards is concerned, this stage would be the perfect place for the state’s Department of Justice to step in and conduct a thorough criminal background check.
A driver who passed the state criminal check would then go on to apply for specific jobs with specific school districts, which would then be beholden to look further into that driver’s background before approving their employment. For instance, the school district could check the driver’s employment history, as well as references and education, to get a better sense of who that person is as a professional. Backgroundchecks.com, for instance, has services that look into both criminal histories and professional or educational histories—both types of background checks that are valuable to run on prospective employees.
Whether or not the Office of Public Instruction will heed the Montana Association of School Boards’ advice will be revealed in January, when the bus driver background check proposal goes before the state’s Board of Public Education.