Protecting Our Children: Another Rant About School Employment Background Checks.

Nick Fishman

Welcome back to an annual tradition of mine where I skewer school districts across the country for the manner in which they conduct employee background checks on their teachers and faculty.  This year, I’m going to be less snarky because this is a serious issue with some very sobering facts.  In the past year alone, we’ve heard about some atrocious instances of abuse at the hands of school employees.  See a few examples below.

  • Duval Schools in Jacksonville, Florida– Elementary School teacher Christopher Bacca was accused of sexually molesting a boy under 12 in the boy’s home. Just over a year earlier, Robert Luke was teaching math at Southside Middle School when he was charged raping a 15-year-old girl.
  • Whaley Elementary School in San Jose, California– Law enforcement authorities are charging OB Whaley Elementary School principal Lyn Vijayendran with failing to report a child molestation complaint against alleged child molester Craig Chandler. Chandler taught at OB Whaley Elementary School, Evergreen School District, for nine years. Chandler was arrested in January 2012 and is currently facing charges stemming from the alleged molestation of five children from his second and third-grade class.
  • Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California– The children at Miramonte Elementary School never complained about their third-grade teacher. Not when he blindfolded them, not when he put tape over their mouths or even when he placed live cockroaches on their faces. He told them it was a game. Then he photographed them, creating images that would eventually lead to his arrest.

Of course these are all disturbing cases, but I think we all have a tendency to think that these things happen elsewhere; not in our own backyards.  So when it comes to background checks why shouldn’t they just go along with state directives?  What’s the point of going the extra mile?  If the state says their criminal record index is sufficient, then who am I to question?

Here’s the thing; these things don’t happen in your school district until they do.  And if you could predict when and where they occurred, there would be a need to conduct criminal background checks.

Sometimes you need to bring the message home with cold hard facts.

I found some of the following facts about child abuse in schools.  Some are old, but I think it’s safe to say that things have either stayed the same or gotten worse.

  • The best estimate is that 15% of students will be sexually abused by a member of the school staff during their school career.
  • The number of K-12 public and private school students in 1996 who have been or will be sexually abused by a member of the school staff is nearly 7 million of 51,331,000.
  • Though, when the American Association of University Women Foundation surveyed more than 1,600 students in eighth through 11th grade, 25 percent of the girls and 10 percent of the boys who said they had been harassed or abused said the harasser was a school employee.
  • Between 1% and 5% of teachers sexually abuse or harass students.
  • At least a quarter of all school districts in the United States have dealt with a case of staff sexual abuse in the past ten years.
  • Most cases of sexual abuse of students by teachers are never reported.
  • In nearly half of the cases, suspects were accused of abusing more than one student.
  • Only two cases were cases of false accusations; less than 1 percent of the cases studied.
  • No type of school was immune to abuse: public or private, religious or secular, rich or poor, urban or rural.

The schools and the state will argue that their systems work, “Sure, people will slip through the cracks, but it works for the budgets we have”.

If they cannot be swayed by the pain and suffering this causes to children and their families, perhaps they’ll consider the words of Prevent Child Abuse America’s CEO, Jim Hmrovich, who suggests that children who are abused are left with scars for the rest of their lives.  In many cases, they become non-productive members of society whether due to dropping out of school, drug abuse and, or criminal activity.  Even worse, many who are abused actually become abusers.

Perhaps that’s not enough.  Let’s look at the financial impact.  I don’t know what the average settlement is with a school for these cases, but here are a few to consider:

  • Sexual abuse of foreign exchange student $600,000.00
  • Sexual molestation by teacher $1,500,000.00 settlement
  • University settlement of sexual harassment claims $2,800,00.00
  • Sexually assaulted by football coach $1,150,000.00 settled
  • School bus driver molestation of child $300,000.00 settlement

I think you get the picture.  When compared to these settlements, the cost of a thorough employment background check is decimal dust.

Let’s start holding our school districts to the same standards used in corporate America.

Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
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