The New York Department of Education (DOE) has been accused by a former employee of being cursory in its examination of school bus driver background check and vetting policies. According to an exclusive report published recently by the New York Daily News, the man charged with investigating driver backgrounds and misconduct allegations was repeatedly stymied by the DOE in his quest for better school bus driver vetting.
The employee in question, Ralph Manente, spent ten years in charge of the unit that vets New York City school bus drivers and responds to allegations of misconduct. Manente, an NYPD retiree, recently retired and is now speaking out.
At backgroundchecks.com, we offer criminal history checks at the county, state, and federal level, as well as a multi-jurisdictional database. We typically advise clients to use a mix of these checks to achieve the most thorough results. We advise our clients to review their own vetting procedures to determine if changes can be made to improve the process.
A year and a half ago, Manente decided background checks for city school bus drivers were not up to snuff. The city was only looking at criminal records in the state of New York. Manente tasked Eric Reynolds, another former NYPD officer, with expanding the background checks.
Reynolds took Manente’s directive seriously. According to the Daily News report, Reynolds saw the existing background check policy as wildly insufficient. He expanded the checks to look beyond New York State counties and started scheduling interviews with drivers. The article says that Reynolds learned “troubling information” from a surprisingly high percentage of the candidates. With approval from Manente, Reynolds began rejecting many of the city’s school bus driver applicants.
Manente says that Reynolds, by setting higher standards for school bus drivers in New York City, inadvertently drew the ire of DOE representatives. The DOE, it seems, was getting angry complaints from the busing companies about the slowed-down hiring process. Things got so bad that this past spring, the DOE contracts office stopped sending Reynolds new driver applications. Instead, an office employee was using Reynolds’ signature and email address to sign off on each candidate. The DOE was actively circumnavigating the vetting process that Reynolds and Manente had put in place.
The Daily News estimates more than 720 bus drivers were approved between April and September without any input from Manente or Reynolds.
Reynolds was ultimately informed his waiver to work with the DOE would not be renewed at the end of the year. Manente was ordered to “reprimand” Reynolds for how he’d interfered with the bus driver hiring process. Manente did not oblige and told the Daily News he believed Reynolds was being punished for getting in the way. For his part, Manente thinks that bus companies pressure the DOE contracts department to approve new drivers as quickly as possible.
A DOE spokesperson told the Daily News that the department took the safety of students “extremely seriously,” and noted that all city bus drivers go through a background check process that includes fingerprinting and FBI criminal history checks. Manente still wants to expand the background checks so they seek out criminal records in other states, search sex offender registries and the NYPD domestic violence database and pull any court filings against the candidate in question.
To learn about the potential shortcomings of state or database-only criminal background checks, read backgroundchecks.com’s Learning Center entry on Crimes & Criminal Records.