School Employees with Criminal Backgrounds
November 13, 2012
As you’ve probably heard before, there are many cases of school employees having criminal records that are not revealed until after they have worked for a school system for a significant period of time. In some instances, this might be because the background check that was conducted was not thorough enough, however, in other cases, previous regulations allowed those with criminal records to work for a school district, as long as enough time had passed since they were convicted. As laws and regulations are narrowing down to prevent these employees from working for the school system, there are many situations that do not have a black or white answer.
One such case reported by WTAE Pittsburgh, is the employment of Art Johnson, a counselor for young fathers at a community center in Penn Hills. In 1982, Johnson was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, and served five years in prison. He says he now uses his experiences from when he was younger to educate the men he counsels. Johnson stated, “I’m not coming at them with what I found out in a book. I’m sharing my experience, my strengths and my hopes…” At the time Johnson was hired, the law did not prevent him from getting the job. However, under a new state law, there will be a lifetime employment ban for certain criminal offenses. While a judge ruled that Johnson could keep his job, the Department of Education appealed the decision. In addition, 53 people working in schools have been reported for criminal records that are covered under this new law. While some of these cases may be a grey area, the state of Pennsylvania does not allow employment to anyone with a criminal record that relates to children. The Pennsylvania Department of Education also has an extensive section on their website regarding background checks for school employees.
Another article from The Daily News in Jacksonville, NC covers the strategic plan for Onslow County Boys & Girls Club and Onslow County Schools, in addition to other local programs. Not only do they conduct national background checks, county records searches, and checks for sexual offenders, but they also institute a program that regulates employees and volunteers from being left alone with children one on one.
Suzanne Ulbrich, Public Information Assistant for Onslow County Schools, stated that “All who volunteer and work for the school district in any capacity, who may come into contact with children, are subject to a background check…they must come to the central office and be fingerprinted in advance, including chaperones, which may be parents.”
In addition, most will recall the cases of abuse within the Boy Scouts of America. There were more than 5,000 reported cases of abuse and molestation dating back decades within this organization. This situation once again brought attention to the need for additional monitoring of anyone working with children.
These measures in both cases may seem extreme, but as an increasing awareness is building nationwide, new laws and regulations are being created in an effort to protect children more exclusively than in past years. With cases arising each week of offenses by teachers to their students, the prevalence of background checks continues to be apparent. Laws are determined by state, so if you are not up to date on the most recent mandates on background checks for employees, contact your state’s department of education for information.