Missouri Aims to Require Background Checks for Some Adult Students

Should a criminal record be a barrier to earning an education? That could result from a bill in committee for the second concurrent year in the Missouri legislature. Though the stated goal of the proposed law is to make schools a safer place for young students, unintended consequences could make it even harder for those with criminal records to re-integrate into society. At issue is a provision that would require background checks for adult students on campus at the same time as school-aged children.

Around the country, many schools, particularly technical academies, host vocational learning programs. These programs can include skills such as carpentry, automotive repair, welding, and much more. Completing such a program yields a certificate that helps individuals get a foot in the door of a new career. These programs aren't just for high school-aged children looking for a different path from traditional college. Many adults use them, too.

Sometimes, that means adult students being on campus with younger children. They may even take some of these vocational classes together as a matter of course. However, one Missouri legislator believes there is currently a hidden and unaddressed danger in these situations. After hearing a story about a man previously convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine conversing with a 16-year-old on campus, the legislator became convinced that there was a need to expand background checks in schools.

Although the bill does not explicitly bar criminal record holders from attending vocational classes, it remains a risk. The state senator claims the goal is not to bar adults with records from taking classes but to enforce enrolling such individuals away from school-aged students. The senator said "other settings" or night classes could be appropriate. Schools may need more infrastructure or funding to offer night classes, and there may need to be more adult students to justify an entirely separate classroom environment. 

To improve the bill's chances of passing, sponsors bundled additional background check legislation into the provisions requiring adult students to undergo a criminal background check. These additions require background checks in recreational marijuana facilities and fingerprint background checks for a wide range of employees in "licensed care facilities," such as nursing homes. Whether it will ultimately reach the governor's desk remains to be seen.

For schools hosting such programs, details about how to comply with this law are murky at best. Requiring background checks for enrollment could prevent individuals from applying—which could be considered discriminatory, especially without evidence of any threat to children. 

Before employing background checks for adult students, educational organizations should carefully consider whether such a program is legal in their jurisdiction or under federal law. Vocational institutes in Missouri should watch the progress of this bill closely and make plans to implement policy changes as needed.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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