Missouri Considering Alert System for Public School Employees

By Michael Klazema on 3/8/2016

According to a recent report from the Springfield News-Leader, Missouri education officials are thinking about implementing a new system that would help to keep schools and students throughout the state safer. The update, called the "Rap Back program," would be a component of the Missouri Automatic Criminal History System.

With the Rap Back program, the system, which provides near-instantaneous criminal search results of state records, would automatically be able to alert school districts to new arrests, charges, or convictions against their employees. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would also be notified of the red flags.

The update, if it goes through, would be hugely beneficial to school districts who don't run repeat background checks on their teachers or employees after hiring. Most school districts in Missouri run only one background check on each employee and do so as a step in the pre-employment process. After someone passes a check and gets hired, they typically don't have to worry about being screened again for as long as they remain in their position.

Schools will often maintain an "honor system" in situations like these, asking employees to disclose information about arrests and convictions if and when they take place. But teachers and other workers are understandably hesitant to inform their employers about any legal trouble, for fear of losing their jobs. As a result, these types of honor systems often don't work as they are supposed to.

The update to the Missouri Automatic Criminal History System would at least partially take the disclosure out of the hands of the employees. The problem is, the coverage won't be universal. Missouri implemented a requirement for fingerprint-based background checks 10 or so years ago, but districts weren't required to go back and re-vet their older employees. As a result, any school employees hired in the past 10 years have their fingerprints in the state system. Anyone hired earlier is probably not in the system. Since the Rap Back monitoring system would be fingerprint-based, the state wouldn't be able to offer coverage for every employee.

Of course, the monitoring system also won't inform school districts if their employees have been arrested, charged, or convicted of crimes in other states. In most cases, though, out-of-state criminal activity will have occurred prior to someone's hiring—not after it.

Even without 100% coverage, though, an automated monitoring system for teacher and school background checks is a positive change for Missouri. The state recently received a "D" grade from the USA Today for its teacher background check policies. By implementing a system that helps schools stay aware of what their employees are doing outside of school, Missouri could be on the road to bringing that grade up to snuff.


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