Just a Bill for Now—Will Background Checks Be Required for All Public Schools?

Nick Fishman

Background Checks in Public Schools

In previous posts, we’ve often discussed the need for more comprehensive background checks in schools as well as a process that should be followed on a national level—not just school district to school district or state by state etc. This year alone, we’ve covered several stories on the EmployeeScreenIQ Blog involving new laws for both child care centers and schools.

Requirements for Background Checks in Schools

There is no standard of background checks for all schools in the United States to follow, nor are there federal laws that must be adhered. This results in many of the stories we hear—that teacher that was on the sex offender registry, yet worked for years in a middle school, or another who was convicted of sexual misconduct and worked with second graders. In any situation, the solution has been to step up background checks on employees in that particular school or school district, and in some instances on a state level. However, as we know, this has not been a true solution to the problem.

New Bill Approved by the House

These stories won’t go away all at once, but the possibility of new legislation could spark a change on a larger, or rather national scale. Last week, the Washington Post reported a bill has been approved by the House that would increase employment background check requirements for schools across the U.S.  The basis of the bill is that school employees with unsupervised access to elementary and secondary students will have to submit to a background check.

Proposed Requirements

The new requirements could help repair a wide range of issues in the current background screening process in public schools. While the article does not specify the types of background checks, it does mention the following:

  • FBI fingerprint checks in the sex offender registry
  • Federal and state criminal record searches
  • The bill would forbid those with certain convictions from employment in schools, including: crimes against children including pornography, or of felonies including murder, rape, spousal abuse or kidnapping.
  • The bill would prevent schools from transferring employees who engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor to another location.
  • Contract workers in schools would be required to undergo the same screening process as regular employees.


While no one in the House opposed the bill, teachers’ unions did have something to say, including the National Education Association (NEA). NEA proposed that imposing this bill could affect workers’ union contracts and they also referenced the potential for disparate impact addressing the fact that minorities make up a high percentage of those convicted of crimes. In addition, I wonder what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) might have to say if this bill is passed by the Senate. However, as stated by the chief sponsor Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.,

“Keeping children safe is not a partisan issue, it’s a moral obligation.”

Additional Considerations

The idea itself is great, right? Create more standardized employment screening that would prevent those who might cause harm to children from working with them. However there are a few additional considerations if this bill becomes law:

1. Implementation: How difficult would it be to get every school on the same page when it comes to ordering the proper background check? And would every school utilize the same service, choose a local consumer reporting agency, etc.?

2. Comprehensive Search: How comprehensive will the criminal background check be? Based on the information reported, it’s possible that the background checks required in schools will not include county criminal record searches, meaning that records could be missed. In addition, will the search check Sex Offender Registries nationwide or only in certain locations?

3. Current Employees: It’s also unclear whether or not current school employees across the United States would be screened according to the new requirements, but the article does state, “Employees with violations would be allowed to appeal, but they could not work during the appeals process.”

It appears this bill is still in an early stage, and the Senate is expected to review in “coming months” as a part of a larger project to change federal laws for elementary and secondary schools.

Nick Fishman
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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.
Nick Fishman
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