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As More School Districts Require Background Checks, Growing Pains Persist

By Michael Klazema on 9/6/2018

From Massachusetts to Illinois to Louisiana, a significant shift in how school districts approach screening and monitoring staff is underway. In the wake of numerous incidents, including allegations of physical and sexual abuse, legislators and school boards have insisted on screening (and re-screening) changes for student safety. These checks not only include teachers and administrative staff but often now expand to include support staff and volunteers. 

An Ohio law requires background checks for all school employees. The Milford Exempted Village School District recently moved to screen volunteers (and even parents). Other districts, including Chicago Public Schools and Lafayette Parish in Louisiana, adopted similar rules. Typically the background checks produced in line with these rules include information from a state-level search and a sex offender registry check, similar to the services offered through backgroundchecks.com. 

These changes are designed primarily to cast a wider net, close loopholes, and hopefully, ensnare candidates whose records or past behavior could pose a risk to schoolchildren. The policy changes have not received a welcome response in all cases. 

Parents in the Milford district objected to their inclusion both on the grounds of cost, since parental volunteers must pay for their own background checks, and privacy, as the results become public record. Other districts have faced logistical challenges related to the huge increase in background check requests due to the new rules.

According to KLFY, districts across Kentucky are contending with problems brought on by a backlog at the state's background report agency. Processing times have skyrocketed from one week to three, as employees must have a clear preliminary report before hiring. With so many new staff members coming aboard at the start of the school year, many have faced delays. Confusion about who needs a check continues due to ambiguities in the state's law over who qualifies as a contractor. Administrators hope legislative clarification will help to smooth the process out in the future.

Not every school system is up to speed. In North Carolina, there is little statewide coordination; while the law requires districts to have a background check policy, there are no rules about what this policy should contain. The result has been the irregular adoption of policies and inconsistent use of the state's non-criminal misconduct reporting system. The system is essential for detecting potentially problematic behavior that might not appear on a typical background check. According to WBRC in Georgia, a similar problem exists in Atlanta and elsewhere in the state, with only eight schools plugged into a national misconduct database. 

Despite the challenges, educational professionals see clear reasons to continue developing better procedures for vetting teachers and volunteers. When it comes to protecting children and for providing parents with peace of mind, there is simply no better option than procedures that take a close look at each individual working with children. At backgroundchecks.com, we support these efforts and provide a robust slate of criminal history reports, including solutions ideal for volunteer organizations and others. 


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