Alexandria, Va. – December 21 – With lawmakers and policymakers looking for ways to tighten requirements for adults who work around children, school districts are looking at a variety of steps to provide a safe and welcoming environment for students, according to the cover story of the December issue of American School Board Journal.
TheJournal also looks at the history of the issue of background checks for school employees, the costs associated with the growing number of people who must submit to background checks and the value of subjecting school volunteers to background checks.
"Safe Hiring" by Ann Bridgman, an Arlington, Va., freelance writer, notes that background checks became an issue in the 1990s in response to highly publicized cases of sexual abuse of children. Today, every state requires some form of background check for school employees.
“The growing pains period has given way now to an environment where everyone wants to be seen as at least attempting to do the right thing in ensuring a healthy environment for children,” says Bernard James, a specialist on school safety who teaches constitutional law at the Pepperdine University School of Law.
Bridgman writes that despite widespread use of background checks to screen employees, many experts continue to say the safeguards are inadequate.
"There are a lot of databases that we should tap into but don’t, and as a result people do slip through the cracks," says Edward Ray, chief of security for the Denver Public Schools.
One of the databases most often cited is the National Crime Information Center, according to the Journal. The Center recommends running fingerprint checks on all new employees and rerunning checks on existing employees every year or two thereafter – a process that is more frequent than most states now require.
"We know that sex offenders are very mobile," says Nancy McBride, the center’s national safety director. “It’s much better to pay for background checks up front than to have the liabilities later and damage to the children.”
Bridgman also raises the question in her article about how tough the hiring requirements should be.
"We took a look at the laws in all 50 states and saw that there were more stringent requirements for people who want to brush down horses than for those who work with kids,” says Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center. “Whenever individuals are working to provide for the safety and well-being of children, there needs to be appropriate background screening and selection."
With the increased emphasis on background checks for school employees and contractors who work around children, the Journal points out that districts face rising costs for the process. Efforts are under way on the national level to help ensure that employees who regularly come in contact with children are fit to do so.
The National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact allows states to share background information on teachers and others seeking employment in a school district. The Journal notes that 38 states are voluntarily abiding by its tenets, which lessens the chance that criminals and others who might want to harm children will slip through the cracks.
The article, "Safe Hiring," can be found on the American School Board Journal Web site at www.asbj.com .
Founded in 1891, the American School Board Journal is an award-winning, editorially independent education magazine published monthly by the National School Boards Association.