"Who is working with our children?" As questions from parents increase, so do policies meant to foster a safer school environment. Some states have passed laws mandating background check procedures for every school district while others leave such duties up to the districts. Regardless of hiring policies, oversight of staff and volunteers after initial background checks often lags, and confusing district policies have led to issues with implementation. \
The school board for Spotsylvania County in Virginia recently approved a payment of more than half a million dollars to settle a lawsuit based on its background check policies. This was no angry parent of a child harmed by a failure of due diligence; it was a former third-party contractor the district had hired to provide janitorial services. Due to the district's background check process, the company said, they were unable to meet the terms of their contract. The school board terminated the agreement and withheld roughly $750,000 in compensation.
Contractually, background checks were required for any janitors to work on school property. The maintenance provider conducted its own background checks, screening for sex offender registrations and felonies—similar in scope to the reports available from backgroundchecks.com. The district always intended to use its own fingerprint-based background checks for verification over the company's. Due to heavy delays in processing—sometimes up to two months long—the company could not meet its obligations. In the wake of the settlement, the district has begun hiring its own custodians.
The use of an in-house check for absolute certainty isn't surprising. Concern frequently now extends to volunteers and other temporary employees in schools. Parents in one Iowa district were outraged to learn a sex offender, Trent Yoder, operated an independent club on school property and even chaperoned some school trips. Because his conviction occurred more than a decade ago, Yoder was no longer required to register as an offender.
An investigation of public records by the Des Moines Register revealed volunteers with non-sexual felony records. Though Yoder was fired, district officials pointed to their robust background check process and the need to consider additional factors in hiring to avoid discrimination. Nonetheless, parental concern lies primarily with a "loophole” in Iowa law that prevents disclosure of background check results to parents. Many feel they should have a right to know when anyone with a past felony will be near their child.
A right to know was also at issue in incidents reported on by the Tennessean. A Nashville school district failed to comply with a mandatory state law for reporting teacher misconduct. Though the district blames a now-fired employee, the fact remains: details on teachers who assaulted students were not reported to a state-level database designed to track misconduct and its resolution. Previously, many teachers accused of misconduct could resign or relocate with no serious consequences.
When it comes to vetting those who work in schools, to say the process is complex is an understatement. There are many variables to account for, especially since so many different people may interact with children on school grounds. To that end, policies that align with common sense and state and local legislation—plus a willingness to respond quickly to problems—are essential.
At backgroundchecks.com, we believe educational screening solutions begin with the ability for administrators to make decisions based on all the facts. With comprehensive criminal background reports such as those produced by the USOneSEARCH, educational organizations can take steps towards safer schools.