An Eastern Michigan school district is making moves to revise its background checks, after discovering that a parent volunteer was actually a sex offender. According to a report from the Toledo Blade, Monroe Public Schools recently barred a 47-year-old man from volunteering at one of their elementary schools. The man had a child at the school, but should not have been permitted to set foot on school grounds due to his presence on Michigan's sex offender registry. Now, in reaction to the situation, Monroe Public Schools is planning to add background checks for all volunteers.
The 47-year-old father was reportedly a frequent presence at Monroe's Custer II Elementary, where he would read to students or help teachers with other classroom activities. Whenever the man was in the classroom, there were other teachers there to supervise his interactions with kids. As a result, the school had decided that running a background check on him was not necessary when he started volunteering.
The school district is equipped and prepared to run background checks on parent volunteers. The Toledo Blade report noted that, since the beginning of the 2015/16 school year, the district has run 1,150 background checks. It was not clear how many of those checks were for volunteers and how many were for teachers or other school employees. However, it has been the district policy for a while that parents volunteering to chaperone field trips or other events must first go through background checks.
Now, the policy will change. Going forward, Monroe Public Schools wants to run background checks for any adults who plan on spending "any length of time" in the classroom. The district is also purchasing a new device that will allow them to run flash background checks on visitors. Parents will swipe their driver's licenses, and the system will do an instant search of the Michigan sex offender registry to find any red flags. In other words, the district is tightening its background check policies for both volunteers and visitors.
The good news is that no students were hurt or violated as a result of this particular oversight. The school has declined to disclose who the father was or what crime had earned him the tag of "registered sex offender."
The bad news is that Monroe Public Schools could face a bit more difficulty putting together an effective and affordable volunteer and visitor background check system than many other districts would. Located just 17 miles north of Toledo, Ohio, the town of Monroe is very near to the Michigan-Ohio state line. As a result, Monroe Public Schools could feasibly draw both employees and families from outside of the state of Michigan. Many schools will focus on state or county background checks for situations like this, but Monroe's location provides a perfect argument for why checks need to reach a bit further. If the district were only to focus on Michigan criminal or sex offender registries, it could be overlooking offenses that took place just 20 miles away.