No state has been in the news for child safety and welfare more in the last few years than Pennsylvania. In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University, the state legislature designed a slew of new laws meant to keep kids safer from predators and other dangerous adults. As a result of those laws, it's more difficult for parents to volunteer at their kids' schools, thanks to significant background check requirements. Still, despite all of the extra protection, an accused killer somehow slipped through the cracks to work as a van driver for several Pennsylvania school districts.
According to a Harrisburg-based ABC affiliate, the suspect in question is accused of strangling a woman with a bike chain and stabbing her several times. The woman's body was apparently found on May 15th. Despite the crime, though—and despite the fact that he was already a convicted criminal, he drove kids to school. The man had a felony conviction on his record for aggravated assault and a slightly less serious but not less relevant conviction for reckless driving. A Derry Township parent whose special needs son was driven to school every day by the suspect in question rightfully wondered how the man was ever allowed to drive children.
The ABC 27 News report noted that the Derry Township School Board discussed the man's role as a district bus driver extensively during a recent board meeting. The district did not employ the suspect directly. Instead, he was a contractor with a transportation company that the district used to farm out some student services. The transportation company also served other districts, and it sounds like the suspect also worked with other districts as part of his job for the company.
Most parents from Derry Township seem to think that there was a breakdown somewhere in the pre-employment screening process. At very least, the suspect should have completed and passed criminal history checks, child abuse checks, sex offender registry checks, and driving record checks. Most of those screening types are standard for anyone who wants to work with children in any capacity—particularly with no other adult supervision.
However, perhaps because he was a contractor, the suspect doesn't seem to have gone through the proper screening pipeline. Did the school district assume that the transportation company had run the background checks while the transportation company assumed the opposite? From the looks of it, that particular question was not answered during the recent Derry Township School Board meeting.
Right now, Derry Township School District only requires contractors to go through background checks every five years. Parents at the School Board meeting want to change the requirement so that contractors are being vetted once a year. However, the real question might be whether or not such a policy would have even helped to prevent this issue, or if poor communication between the school district and their contract firm was the real problem. In any case, the situation in Derry Township should serve as a reminder to school districts that screening independent contractors is as important as vetting full-time and part-time employees.