Sunday, March 15, 2015

Are Schools doing enough to Protect our Children?

Are school background checks really protecting our children? 
As parents, and as a community, we strive to keep our children safe. We make sure they are supervised while they play, we use car seats and seat belts to prevent them from getting hurt, and we do many other things daily to keep them healthy and protect them from harm.

Our schools shouldn’t be any different.

In most cases, from the age of 5 until they are 18, children spend the majority of their day in the care of our local schools. We should have the expectation that everything that can be done is being done to ensure that the people they come in contact with are qualified and safe.

As our children head back to school after shut downs and online learning due to the pandemic, isn't it time to get it right?
That is why we need uniformity when it comes to school background checks.

You may think that background checks for school employees, and in many cases volunteers, are already being done, so why worry?

The truth is that individual states develop their own laws governing these checks, and not all these laws are created equal.  

Some states require little to no background checks. Others screen only full-time teachers, but not aides, substitute teachers, coaches, bus drivers, or volunteers.

There are states that check all of the above, but even those states vary on the scope of their background checks and what sources are used.

School district size seems to play a role in determining what information is verified in their employee background checks. According to a study by Richard M. Titus and Carol J. DeFrances; Criminal Record Checks of Public School Employment Applicants, smaller districts tend to use more “informal sources” to screen their applicants. Things like personal references are used more in determining suitability for employment than stringent criminal record checks. These smaller school systems may not even screen some applicants at all.

What is even more frightening is a practice called “passing the trash”

This is when unsuitable or unsafe educators, coaches, etc. are allowed to resign instead of facing possible criminal charges. They then move on to another unsuspecting school, posing a possible danger to a new group of students. 

While legislators have passed legislation to strengthen school background checks via the “Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act”, a more uniform screening system makes sense.

Each school should be required to conduct, at the minimum,  state and local criminal records checks and a child abuse history clearance on all possible teachers, staff, and volunteers. An additional finger-print based federal FBI background check also makes sense.

And a one time check is not enough. Periodic subsequent checks also need to be done to confirm continuing clean records.

While there are those that believe this is excessive or an invasion of privacy, we disagree.

We should all want the same thing. Getting hung up on questions like “are these background checks too far reaching?” or “shouldn’t people get a second chance?” need to be shelved when it comes to the safety of our children.

Schools, and our legislators, need to feel a responsibility not only to those in their local schools or in their states, but also to other schools, including all students, all parents, and even other teachers. Sharing information concerning dangerous educators, volunteers, coaches, etc. would go a long way in achieving that goal. Allowing cloaks of silence to follow fired employees, only to thrust them upon a new victim, is unconscionable.  
Developing uniform screening methods and enacting laws requiring schools to share information on unsafe employees will help keep all our children safe. Please share this article and help spread the word! Thanks!

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