A school district in Alaska is making a pledge to implement background checks for volunteers that work closely with children and teenagers. It's a notable overhaul of the security and screening processes for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, especially since it is being implemented after a tutor at one of the high schools in the area was arrested and charged with repeatedly sexually abusing a child. The volunteer in question has been in jail since March and is awaiting trial.
On the surface, this all seems fairly standard. Unfortunate incident shocks community and highlights security oversights in school district polices; district responds by implementing new background check policies. What isn't standard is that the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has admitted that the types of background checks it is implementing have technically been required for 10 years, if not longer.
Indeed, in an article published by the Fairbanks Daily North-Miner, the Human Resources Director said that background checks for volunteers working with kids have been required since at least 2004. It isn't clear, however, whether the requirement was passed down by the school district or the state. For the most part, Alaska state laws only recommend that organizations run background checks on volunteers in the same way they do with employees. However, the State of Alaska does have background check requirements for volunteers working with children, the elderly, or the mentally handicapped.
So how come the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District hasn't been running the volunteer background checks that are, evidently, required by state law? The district's HR director didn't make excuses for the oversight, saying that the district needs to clearly define what the expectations are as often as possible going forward.
For their part, the school district is drawing up in-depth background check policies that should make sure volunteers don't have criminal records and aren't listed on any sex offender registries. The new background checks will be comprehensive nationwide screenings.
Still, it's troubling that this background check policy, supposedly in place in one way or another since 2004, was not enforced. If school districts or individual schools are not held accountable for running volunteer background checks, then it is only a matter of time before predators will make their way into the system and take advantage of the vulnerabilities. That's exactly what happened with Fairbanks North Star Borough School District in the case of the sexual abuse/tutor case, and it's sad to think of how easily that incident might have been avoided.