Does Minnesota need to overhaul its policies for background checking teachers? Based on recent news headlines involving teachers arrested for sexual conduct with students, the answer to that question is yes.
The series of sexual misconduct cases began in the Twin Cities, when a 27-year-old tennis coach was arrested and charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct with a student. The coach allegedly began a sexual relationship with one of his students when she was a 15-year-old freshman at the school where he worked. The victim says that the coach also told her about at least three other relationships he'd had with minors.
The second case concerns a 28-year-old female math teacher at a catholic school in Austin, Minnesota. The woman was arrested and charged with third-degree sexual assault, based on suspicion that she had maintained a sexual relationship with a student.
The third and final case (for now) involves a Minneapolis teacher who allegedly stalked and sexually harassed one of his students. The 46-year-old man has admitted to sending numerous texts to a 17-year-old student in his class, many of them of a sexually explicit nature. Sources say that the teacher was actively pressuring the student to have sex with him, but that a sexual relationship, fortunately, never began.
All three teachers will likely face harsh consequences for their crimes, including jail time, probation, and the necessity to register as sex offenders. The Minneapolis man who stalked his student will also be required to go through a psychosexual evaluation and a full sex offender treatment program.
These punishments should theoretically keep all three teachers from ever working in a school system again, or from working with minors in any capacity. However, the fact that three sexual misconduct cases arose in Minnesota schools in such close proximity to one another begs the question of whether or not the state is doing enough with background checks to keep students safe.
For its part, Minnesota law does require all private and public schools in the state to run background checks on teachers. Those checks can either be run through the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or through a private agency, hired by the school itself. Teachers also have to go through a background check to be licensed with the Minnesota Board of Teaching.
So someone is looking into the pasts of these teachers, but there are still numerous questions to be asked. For one, what do the background checks entail? One of Minnesota's problems is that there is very little uniformity. Schools that go just through the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension only get criminal histories from within the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota Board of Teaching looks at FBI records, but that's only a one-time check, meaning that things can still fall through the cracks.
In recent years, many schools gave gotten more vigilant about background checks. In Minnesota, that has meant foregoing the BCA and working with private firms to find out more about employees. Still though, for employees like the Twin Cities tennis coach, these background checks are still failing. The coach in question was young and had no criminal history, so nothing showed up on his background check. However, if the man had been involved in relationships with minors in the past, someone should have known about it, or at least noticed that something was not quite right. This information can't always be gleaned from a criminal history search, but it can often be revealed through reference checks, talks with old employers, or even just in-depth interviews with the applicant.