New Mexico Schools Continue to Struggle with Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 2/8/2016
One of the biggest background check-related news stories of 2015 was that of Albuquerque Public Schools, where a Deputy Superintendent was hired without first undergoing a background check. It eventually came out that the employee in question was facing charges for child sexual assault out of state (the charges were lodged in Denver), and he ultimately resigned from his position.

That narrative kick-started a deeper review of the employee screening processes at Albuquerque Public Schools, which is New Mexico's largest public school district. The review, conducted by state Attorney General Hector Balderas, eventually discovered that 2,270 of the district's employees—about 15 percent—didn't have background checks on file.

Most of those checks weren't missing by accident, by but design. When the school district had implemented a new background check policy in 1999, employees hired before that date were "grandfathered in," rather than being required to face background checks retroactively. Still, in a letter written to APS in February, Balderas asked that the district conduct background checks on those older employees as soon as possible.

Now, a new report from the New Mexico Public Education Department has indicated that the state's public schools are still struggling with complete background check compliance. The report didn't touch on how far APS and other school districts have gotten with vetting older employees who didn't have background checks on record. However, the report did claim that 14 administrators and 81 newly hired school employees throughout New Mexico had not yet gone through state-mandated background checks. The report looked at background check compliance at public school districts and charter schools alike.

The good news is that, in the grand scheme of things, those numbers are pretty small. Indeed, Hanna Skandera, New Mexico's Secretary of Education, noted that 99 percent of the state's school districts are currently in total compliance with background check laws. She also said that "99 percent is not good enough" and that her office was "not going to stop until we have 100 percent." Some districts are definitely still struggling with background check regulations, but most (184 districts and charters, according to the report) are in full compliance.

The schools found to be incompliant will have until March 1st of this year to update their background check policies and make sure checks are on record for all employees. That deadline is sooner than the one Balderas gave to Albuquerque Public Schools in December to vet their pre-1999 employees: APS has until May to work through those checks.

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