Illinois Will Soon Require Student Teachers to Undergo Teacher Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 10/28/2015
It's no secret that teachers face particularly rigorous pre-employment background checks, especially compared to other professions. Since teachers at the elementary, middle school, or high school levels spend so much time with kids and teens, background checks are necessary to protect the safety of those students.

However, student teachers have traditionally not been required to face the same level of background check scrutiny as fully qualified teachers, if they've even been required to undergo background checks at all. Perhaps the reason for this inconsistency is that student teachers are only very rarely left unsupervised with students. After all, in a student teaching environment, the student is constantly either learning from or being evaluated by the teacher they are working with.

Regardless of the inherent difference between full-time teachers and student teachers, both groups will soon be required to complete the same background checks, in Illinois, at least. Indeed, Illinois legislators recently approved a new measure that will increase the background check scrutiny faced by student teachers in the state. New background checks for student teachers will include criminal history background checks, fingerprinting, and sex offender database searches.

The legislation in question, Senate Bill 706, was originally approved at the General Assembly's spring session. This fall, legislators will officially make the legislation law. According to Bill Cunningham, a Democratic Senator from Chicago who supports the bill, the purpose of the measure is to ensure that students are protected from predators and that "instructors are the best and safest people available."

Many colleges and universities will already require that students in educational programs undergo certain background screenings. Student teaching is one of the few cases where universities will actually run background checks on pupils in their programs. However, Senate Bill 706 will not only make sure that student teacher background checks are observed across the board but also that student teachers face the exact same standards are other educators.

Even if student teachers don't spend a lot of unsupervised time with kids or teens, this legislation is a smart move. On one hand, it helps schools know who is coming into their building and working with their kids, invaluable knowledge an age where school shootings and sexual misconduct cases are almost commonplace. On the other hand, the screenings can show aspiring teachers what to expect from a job in pre-college education. After all, student teachers, as soon as they finish their degree programs, will be out looking for jobs where these types of background check requirements are standard. It only makes sense to make them standard for student teachers, as well.

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