I think we can all agree that going back to school sucks. As a little kid I remember the dread I felt waking up for the first day of school and knowing that my summer was officially over. Even as an adult, I get that same feeling for my kids. So, it was with great anxiety that I put my fourth and first graders on the bus last week. (If you are a regular on this blog, you know what comes next).
Enter, my annual rant on school background checks.
You know, it’s a blessing and a curse to be in this business. You can help a lot of great organization minimize the risk of hiring the wrong person. You can also help these organizations validate that their candidate is the right choice. Over the years, I have been exposed to some of the worst things people in this world can do. And just when I see what I think is the most disgusting and heinous behavior, something else comes along that sets a new low.
To me, the worst offenses are those that deal with the abuse of children; whether physical, mental or sexual. So you can imagine my feeling of helplessness when I know that I am powerless to help the schools (whether my own kids’ schools or any other) to perform comprehensive criminal background checks. The states have created a false sense of security by mandating statewide criminal background checks for school employees. Most states can’t even mandate that all their counties report information in to them. And even so, the information passed on might not be up to date, accurate or comprehensive. Further, what happens if a school employee committed a crime outside of the state for which they seek employment?
One need not look very far to find an incidents of abuse in schools where the district swore they ran background checks. It happens all the time. And when it does, the school either is, or acts surprised that the state check didn’t reveal past convictions. Then, they inevitably blame the lack of proper funding to remedy the situation. What could be more important than protecting our children?
So, even though I know that it will fall of deaf ears, here is my advice for conducting the type of background check that should be used in schools. First, all school employees from the Superintendent, to the teachers, to the janitors, to the bus drivers should be checked. The background check should consist of a county criminal background check in each county that the candidate has resided and under each name they have used. Next, the school should perform a National Sex Offender Registry check (for obvious reasons) and a National Criminal Records Search which can identify criminal activity committed outside the counties where someone has lived. And then if they still want to conduct a statewide search, they can feel free to do so.
I know that as a parent, I would feel much more comfortable that our schools have done everything they can reasonably can do to protect our children and provide them with a safe learning environment. We live in a crazy world and overwhelming majority of our school employee are there for the right reasons. But unfortunately, there are always those that have other intentions and until they cease to exist, we need to take steps to ensure that they never step foot in a school. Taking the steps I listed above would significantly mitigate the possibility of it happening and the schools should do everything in their power to take advantage of the tools corporations have been using for years.
Until then, I’ll keep holding my breath.