Pennsylvania Schools Lack Routine Background Check Policies

By Michael Klazema on 1/6/2014

A recent Associated Press report highlighted a rather shocking oversight in the background check policies followed by both public and private schools in Pennsylvania. The state’s education sector has reared its head in background check industry headlines on numerous occasions as of late, once for a new of piece of legislation mandating pre-employment drug tests for school district teachers, once for a state senator who wants to establish standard background check policies for educators all over the country, and once for a school district that has begun requiring “flash” background checks for all visitors.

However, despite the state’s apparent dedication to keeping kids safe in school and ridding applicant and employee pools of potentially dangerous or unwholesome educators, Pennsylvania schools still have a glaring blind spot in their employee screening standards. According to the Associated Press, Pennsylvania state law does not require schools to run repeat background checks on existing employees. In other words, while the state may make it difficult for a criminal teacher or administrator to actually land a position at a school, it also gives virtual immunity to existing employees, regardless of their actions after being hired.

Instead of running routine periodic background checks to determine whether or not existing teachers and other school district employees have been involved in criminal activity since their hire dates, Pennsylvania schools essentially rely on the honor system. Per a 2011 law, all school districts now have a form that employees are supposed to fill out and submit should they be convicted of a crime. Arrests or convictions must be reported to the district within 72 hours of their occurrence. Naturally though, most employees aren’t willing to actively put their job at stake, meaning that criminal activity goes largely undetected among established educators in Pennsylvania.

To be fair, Pennsylvania schools do go to great lengths to ensure that no dangerous educators are knowingly hired to a position that puts them in frequent contact with underage minors. State law mandates that school districts run at least three separate background screenings on every teacher they hire, including both state and federal criminal history checks and a clearance check with the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare. Together, the checks are meant to root out violent criminals, heavy drug users, sex offenders, and child abusers. Vendors like run checks to find similar misdeeds, including quick-acting solutions like US OneSEARCH. US OneSEARCH browses criminal records from all American states and territories, quickly working to separate unfit applicants from quality ones.

Still, Pennsylvania doesn’t mandate any kind of background check once teachers and other educators have achieved employment, and that oversight allows criminal activity in the state’s school systems. In fact, a recent incident involving a school bus driver called the lack of post-employment background checks into question, and could well inspire legislative action in the state – especially considering Pennsylvania’s recent vigilance in making schools safer.

The incident – or rather, the pair of incidents – involved a 60-year-old bus driver who had been employed with Pennsylvania’s Centennial School District for 43 years. The bus driver was charged with indecent assault and corruption with minors, allegations that relate back to inappropriate contact that he shared with a pair of young boys – an eight-year-old and a 12-year-old – at his house.

While the district was quick to point out to the Associated Press that the incidents did not occur during Brimmer’s school district shifts and therefore were not related to his employment, there is no escaping the fact that the school district long employed a man who will likely soon become a convicted sex offender. The driver passed the required checks when he was first hired over 43 years ago, but had not been screened since.


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