Every state has slightly different requirements when it comes to background checks for teachers. This fact was widely discussed back in 2016 when a USA Today article graded each state based on its policies and practices for teacher background checks. In that report, only seven states earned an “A” grade, while 12 states and Washington, D.C. all received grades of “F.” The report illuminates how significantly background checks for teachers can vary from state to state and even from school to school.
USA Today graded state background check policies based on three categories. For the first category, the newspaper looked at how thorough each state’s policies for pre-employment background checks were.
In some states, criminal history searches, work history verifications, and other background checks are required at the state level. The state conducts these background checks after a teacher applies for certification. A teacher cannot receive a teaching certificate in that state without passing a background check.
In other states, background checks fall to individual schools or school districts. In its report, USA Today penalized states for having policies that fell in the latter category, ruling that such policies were more vulnerable to loopholes and oversights.
Even in states where teachers have gone through background checks at the state level, schools may require additional background checks of their own. These checks can include more criminal history screenings, professional license checks (to verify teacher certification), reference checks (to learn about a teacher’s background from previous employers or colleagues), education verification checks (to ensure that the teacher has the proper degrees to teach certain subjects), searches of sex offender and child abuse registries, and others—for instance, many schools require regular drug testing for employees.
USA Today graded states on two other categories regarding teachers who have been accused of misconduct. First, the newspaper looked at whether states publicly shared information about teachers who had been sanctioned for misconduct. There is a nationwide database into which states can report teacher sanctions, making it more difficult for teachers who have been stripped of their licenses in one state to get licensed elsewhere. Second, the paper looked at whether states required schools to report allegations of teacher misconduct to the state. In some cases, school districts have allowed alleged predators to resign quietly and pursue education jobs elsewhere—a practice known as passing the trash.
When it comes to teacher background check processes, schools are first obligated to comply with state laws. Implementing additional background checks beyond what the state requires is possible—and it may be one of the most critical steps that schools can choose to take to fully protect their students and staff members.
One smart strategy for schools is ongoing criminal monitoring to keep an eye on teachers for recent troubles with the law. At backgroundchecks.com, we have a service that makes ongoing criminal monitoring easy for employers.