New York City Adds More Rigorous Background Checks for Pre-K Programs

By Michael Klazema on 8/17/2015
Throughout the past year, New York City has been making a concentrated push to get every child into the city into pre-kindergarten education and enrichment programs, many of which are full-day. Now, as the program heads into its second year, the city is expanding the vetting and background check process behind the programs to make sure that kids are as safe as possible.

Needless to say, expanding the vetting process for the programs, let alone implementing said programs in the first place, is a daunting process. According to the Wall Street Journal, the city's efforts to create "universal pre-K education" for local four-year-olds will this year involve classes "in 1,150 New York City Early Education Centers and 700 public schools." That's a lot of different programs, involving a huge number of different locations and employees, so the city's apparent vigilance with keeping the overall vetting process updated is comforting.

So far, the Wall Street Journal says that there have been 742 fire safety inspections (done by the fire department), as well as 418 corporate checks and 1,503 employee background checks (run by the department of investigations). In addition, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says that they do 7,000 inspections each year on these programs and their facilities. Last year, 11 of the programs were suspended after school was already in session, thanks to a variety of different problems.

This year, 47 applicants were turned away after being subject to "more rigorous" inspections and background checks. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, meanwhile, is looking at eight different open health code violations right now, but all of them can (and hopefully, will) be resolved without program closure or suspension being necessary. The health department has gotten a budget increase this year to hire more inspectors, largely with the goal of being more vigilant about inspecting pre-K programs. The fire department, as previously mentioned, also inspects each location, as does the city's Buildings Department.

Even with all of these different types of screening and inspection in place, the city isn't done yet. When each pre-K program opens its doors in September, the Department of Education will have officials standing by at each and every location to do yet another inspection. Per the Wall Street Journal, these inspections include observational assessments of "staffing, facilities, curriculum, and outreach," as well as full walkthroughs of the property.

Finally, the city launched a website that parents of kids in pre-K programs can keep an eye on to watch for alerts and notifications. Theoretically, this site will warn parents if a program has been flagged for a fire safety or health violation, or if a staff member has been removed based on red flag findings on their record. The site even allows parents to compare the safety track record of one pre-K program against that of another.

Bottom line, education is one of the industries where background checks and other vetting processes are most important, and it's refreshing to see New York City work so hard to put a good vetting policy in place for pre-K education. Since the move toward universal pre-K programs is still new for the city, it's likely that these vetting policies will still be subject to change in the months and years to come, but this current policy is a good start for making sure that kids are in safe environments and are being taught by qualified, trustworthy employees.


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