Most parents assume that the school they’ve chosen for their child, public or otherwise, will be a safe place where he or she can learn and grow away from the dangers of the outside world. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Lax pre-employment screening laws for school employees sometimes turn safe havens into the breeding grounds of nightmares.
Whether you’re a parent or an educator, your likely wondering how horrible incidents like these can happen. According to the GAO, the answer is threefold.
- First, some schools allow dangerous individuals to resign rather than face disciplinary action.
- Second, some schools fail to engage employment screening services on all employees.
- Third, even when they do perform employment background checks, their methods are inadequate.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics 50.1 million students attended public elementary and secondary schools in 2013, while another 5.2 million went to private schools.
A 2010 report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined 15 cases of sexual misconduct by school workers. In at least 11 of the cases, the offenders had previously targeted children. In at least six cases, the offenders used their new positions to abuse additional students. For example, one teacher who resigned for inappropriate conduct received a letter of recommendation from the school superintendent, went to work for a neighboring district, and was later arrested for sexual battery of a sixth grader.
Another teacher became a registered sex offender and had his teaching license revoked in Texas. After moving to Louisiana, he obtained employment at a new school. At the time of the GAO report, a warrant was out for his arrest because he had allegedly repeated his crimes with students at the new school. In yet another case, a school in Arizona failed to conduct a pre-employment screening despite the fact that the prospective teacher disclosed a previous child-related crime in his application. The courts later convicted him for once again engaging in sexual conduct with a student.
Additionally, the GAO found that there are no federal laws that regulate the employment of sex offenders. State laws on the subject are widely divergent. While some require a national, fingerprint-based criminal background check, others do not. Some states also allow educators to continue teaching in the event of a conviction, and still others do not revoke teaching licenses for misconduct.
Legislators intend the bill H.R. 2083—Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act—to standardize national background check requirements for school employees. The act will require employment background checks that include the criminal registry, child abuse and neglect registries of the state in which the teacher resides as well as the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System and the National Sex Offender Registry.