Contractor Screening and Schools

By Michael Klazema on 9/10/2019

The discourse around workplace background checks is often focused on employee background screenings. Vetting full-time employees and part-time employees is a must for employers, and for schools and school districts, “employee background screening” is a category that encompasses teachers, administrators, athletic coaches, and most other faculty and staff. These positions represent priority areas for schools because these employees spend the most time with students. However, it is also important for the background check discourse to include contractors, who might play crucial roles of their own within an organization but who rarely receive the same level of scrutiny as full-time or part-time employees. 

Why Contractor and Vendor Screenings Matter 

There are many reasons why businesses and organizations utilize contractors or vendors. They may need to fill staffing shortages, such as through staffing agencies or “temps.” They may hire freelancers to complete one-off projects. They may contract workers through outside companies that specialize in specific tasks or services. The list of reasons goes on, and it’s only getting longer as the gig economy expands. 

These workers are fundamentally different from full-time employees. They often work temporarily and might not even work exclusively for the employer in question. Businesses gain certain advantages by not considering temps or contractors “employees” in areas ranging from taxation to employee benefits. 

Contractors still have many of the same privileges as full-time and part-time workers. They work with that company’s brand, assets, customers, and employees. They act as a face of that company, and as such, they pose the very same risks of negligent hiring lawsuits, legal liability, and reputational damage as any employee. Read our white paper about contractor and vendor background checks to learn why vetting temporary personnel is so important. 

Contractors and Schools 

Contractor background screening is an especially high-stakes matter in an educational environment. Contractors can play several roles at a school. Most school districts don’t manage transportation in-house but rather contract those services out to busing companies. Some schools contract with cleaning companies for their janitorial services. Many after-school programs are run by contractors or contractor firms. 

There have been multiple headline-making issues with contractor background checks in schools. In the spring of 2019, a Montessori school in northeast Washington D.C. failed to conduct a background check on a contractor working at its before- and after-school programs. The 21-year-old man was working with a company that the school had hired to run these programs. That company—Springboard Education—had no record of having vetted him. The man was accused of sexual misconduct with a 13-year-old student, which led D.C. Public Schools to cut ties with Springboard Education and launch a review and revamp of its own policies for contractor screening. 

In some cases, school districts are left with a tough dilemma: conduct background checks on everyone and retain high standards for all employees and contractors or loosen requirements to attract workers to tough-to-fill roles. Nationally, this dilemma has been an especially large problem for bus drivers, who are typically contractors. School districts and school bus companies in states such as Wisconsin and Delaware maintain in-depth background check requirements for these drivers—but in a vibrant job economy with low unemployment rates, the amount of interest in bus driver jobs—which are typically challenging and stressful with low pay—is minimal. 

By requiring background checks that target drug use, criminal history, and driving record red flags, schools and bus companies are disqualifying or scaring away many of the individuals who might have been willing to take these jobs. Such policies are doing their job of keeping students safe, but they are also bringing about bus driver shortages and student transportation problems at school districts nationwide. 

Despite their challenges, contractor background checks play an essential role in keeping students safe at school, on the way to school, and in school-sponsored programs. Click here to start building a contractor and vendor screening strategy for your school.

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