Chicago Public Schools (CPS) recently fired 128 employees after conducting fresh background checks. Per a report from the Chicago Tribune, the list of ousted employees included nine teachers and 35 classroom aides among other district employees.
CPS has opted not to disclose specific details about the fired employees, including their names, the schools where they worked, or the background check findings that resulted in their termination. However, the district does say that most of its employees—a category that includes roughly 68,000 people—have now been cleared by background checks to work with or near children.
In the summer, CPS announced its intention to conduct new background checks on around 45,000 existing employees. The rash of repeat background checks was prompted by a Chicago Tribune investigation which found that the school district had left students vulnerable around employees with criminal records or past accusations of child sexual abuse. The Tribune argued that CPS did not have a sufficient background check system, mainly because the district only vetted employees at the time of hire.
In addition to the 128 employees that CPS dismissed, the districted bid farewell to 130 school volunteers and 184 vendor employees who work for companies that CPS contracts for certain services. There is also a list of 124 district employees who are temporarily barred from working with the district, as they have not submitted fingerprints for their background checks. Finally, the district wants to take a closer look at 27 coaches and 350 vendors and volunteers—individuals who are also barred from working with the district in the interim. The Tribune says that the background checks for these workers “uncovered information that prompted a closer district review of their personal history.”
The Tribune article outlined several potential issues with the actions that CPS has taken so far. First, the Chicago Teachers Union says CPS has not scheduled disciplinary proceedings with the teachers it has dismissed—something that is required under the district’s contract with the labor group. Second, CPS is required by law to report the names of any educators who have been fired (or who have resigned) over allegations of abuse or neglect. The Illinois State Board of Education says that CPS has not clarified whether any of its recently dismissed teachers fit these criteria.
Finally, despite the massive undertaking of re-checking most of its existing employees, CPS reportedly does not have an ongoing strategy in place for monitoring employees for new criminal activity. When the Tribune published its investigation of CPS earlier this year, the big takeaway was that the district did not have an effective means of learning about employees who committed crimes after they were hired. The big re-check operation closed those holes for now, but they will form again over time. CPS would benefit from implementing a policy for re-screening employees on a regular basis.
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