Parents have many expectations when they send their children to school. They expect an environment that encourages learning led by experienced professionals, opportunities for growth and development, and a place to interact with peers. Most importantly of all, they expect safety. With roughly half of all their annual days spent in school, children need consistent supervision and guidance from professionals who are trustworthy enough to be in the position.
"Due diligence" in hiring and staff management is usually the key phrase, and it typically means running teacher background checks during the hiring process. What do schools look for in these background checks, and do they go far enough?
Identifying evidence of past criminal behavior, especially actions that could represent a risk to children, is a core focus of that process. While due diligence is no guarantee of safety, nor is it a surefire way to prevent crime, it can help with forecasting the future risks of hiring an individual.
While pre-employment background checks are very important and often required for legal compliance, due diligence should not and cannot stop after a school’s acceptance of an applicant. Without stronger and continuous diligence to preserve safety in schools, potential dangers can slip through the cracks.
A recent and shocking lapse in Fairfax County, Virginia highlights what can go wrong.
In 2020, a Fairfax County Public Schools guidance counselor was arrested during a sting operation and charged with solicitation of prostitution from a minor. Police immediately notified the school district via email about the man's arrest, but the messages were never received. Subsequently, the man was convicted—but the courts ordered a suspended sentence. Required to register as a sex offender, he lied about his occupation, listing it as "self-employed" to avoid any further notifications to employers.
All the while, he remained employed with the same school district. In June 2022, the man was again arrested in a prostitution sting—and police were shocked to discover he still worked at the school. Not until late July 2022 did the school's principal learn about the original arrest when contacted by the media. The man faces new charges and was terminated by the district.
Outrage from parents and safety groups has been fierce. Because of a lack of ongoing due diligence, children were potentially placed in harm's way for well over a year. Background checks for schools shouldn't end once the hiring process concludes—a key point in favor of expanding and strengthening due diligence.
Ongoing criminal monitoring or an annual background check on staff members would have revealed the original conviction and led to a swifter termination. Likewise, better procedures for maintaining contact with the authorities could have ensured the proper delivery of the crucial email messages that covered his first arrest.
School districts and youth organizations should take note: due diligence is an ongoing process, not a one-time investment.
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