Washington Substitute Teacher Cleared Background Checks Despite Criminal History

By Michael Klazema on 2/19/2014
According to a recent report published by KREM 2, a local news source based in Spokane Valley, Washington, a substitute teacher at one of the town's elementary school managed to pass a background check and gain access to children despite a history of criminal activity. Students at Trent Elementary, the grade school in question, claimed that a substitute teacher had hit them, scratched them, threatened them, and generally abused them during his recent stint teaching at their school. The teacher also allegedly locked students in a classroom by themselves and is suspected of having been under the influence of alcohol. The substitute is facing 29 criminal charges of assault and unlawful imprisonment, charges that will be looked at in more detail at an April trial.

While the trial awaits, however, parents and residents of Spokane Valley - as well as Tom Gresch, the superintendent of the school district where the crimes were committed, are asking how a man like this could have ever been given clearance to enter a classroom. All records indicate that the accused was subject to the same background check procedures as every other teacher; substitute and full-time alike but somehow, the school district missed numerous criminal offenses that might have disqualified him from a teaching position. For one thing, the man had a restraining order against him in Spokane, the result of a domestic violence dispute. He also had a criminal conviction for issuing a "false statement to police," supposedly while under oath, and was even charged with an out-of-state DUI just a few months ago.

None of these offenses ever showed up on his background checks. He first applied for a substitute-teaching license in 1996 and was required to submit to a background check. He was cleared with no suspicion or reservation, and was allowed to renew his license three times until the summer of 2011, when we was granted a "lifetime certification." However, while he had to go through the bureaucratic process of renewing his license, he was never asked to take a second background check, meaning that any criminal activity that took place after 1996 went unchecked and unnoticed. For most teachers in the state of Washington, law enforcement officers are supposed to report new criminal convictions to the schools. However, since substitutes aren't hired by a single school, they are harder to pin down, meaning that their developing criminal records often slip through the cracks.

These holes in the background check system have inspired Tom Gresch to consider instituting a new policy throughout his school district. So far, Gresch's proposed policy is little more than a theoretical outline. However, the superintendent wants annual ongoing background checks for all substitute teachers and full-time educators in his district. These checks would likely include common screening elements such as criminal conviction records, child abuse registries, and sex offender statuses, all of which could be provided through ongoing criminal monitoring services from


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