Massachusetts Legislation Would Call for Background Checks of High School Referees

By Michael Klazema on 2/17/2015

States across the country have been pushing harder and harder for background checks of anyone who works with kids. Teachers, coaches, daycare workers, bus drivers, school volunteers, even school visitors policies have recently been discussed to extend or deepen background checks for all of these groups. And in Massachusetts, the battle is continuing with a group that not every state has thought of yet: referees for high school sporting events.

According to a report from the Boston Globe, refs are one of the last groups in the public school circle that are not yet required to undergo background checks. At this point, virtually everyone who works with school kids in Massachusetts has passed a background check. Referees,”who are licensed through the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, are the exception to that rule, though, and a State Representative wants to close the gap.

With a new piece of proposed legislation, referees would no longer be allowed to officiate high school sporting events without first passing a background checks. Since MIAA has some 7,600 referees that are eligible to officiate sporting events,”across 374 member schools, that would mean a good deal of legwork for the association.

Still, it's legwork that's necessary. The proposed legislation follows an investigation that the Boston Globe did toward the end of last year, which found that there were a number of ex-convicts (and even a few sex offenders) working as referees in the state of Massachusetts. The investigation also discovered that the MIAA doesn't run any sort of criminal background checks on its referees, which means the association has no idea how many criminals or sex offenders are out there officiating games between student-athletes.

This information is obviously shocking, considering how frequently these individuals work with young and vulnerable kids. Perhaps even more alarming is how many states in the country don't have background check policies in place for school sports officials. Sure, about 20 states have now passed laws requiring criminal checks for referees. As the legislation in Massachusetts shows, that number should continue to increase in the coming years. Still, the country is far from 100% in terms of this kind of safety coverage.

A subcommittee for the MIAA is working on drawing up plans for how background checks of officials would work. Part of the problem is that a state regulation stipulates that school districts should be the ones to screen workers. Employment lines are blurry for high school sports officials, with the schools hiring referees for regular season games that they host, and with the MIAA technically serving as the "employer" for referees at post-season playoff and championship events. It's a convoluted system, and one that makes it difficult to decide which entity should be background checking which referees.

Still, it seems highly likely that Massachusetts will soon require referees to undergo background checks, one way or another. It just isn't clear now who will have to run those checks, or how they will be done.


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