N.C. School Board to Start Employee Background Checks

For many industries, employee background checks – also called “routine background screenings” – may seem excessive. However, in certain industries in which money is handled or in which children, the elderly, or the disabled are given care or supervision, employee background checks create a safer, more dependable workforce.

As a result of this notion, the Johnston County Board of Education in Smithfield, N.C. recently revealed it plans to start conducting such periodic screenings on its staff and teachers.

Previously, background checks were only conducted during hiring. Now, district employees will have their criminal history occasionally pulled and examined. Ramifications regarding this new practice, however, have not been revealed.

Just like pre-employment background checks, employee screenings are never identical and consistent. It appears, at least from the basic news story, that the Johnston County Board of Education will be conducting strictly criminal background checks. Nevertheless, as credit is a growing factor in hiring, particularly for those in the financial field or those handling money, periodic credit checks are another possibility.

As the result of the recent Sandusky scandal at Penn State, higher education institutions are additionally revising their policies to include employee background checks on teachers, staff, and even volunteers.

What can happen in response to routine background screenings? Much like pre-employment background checks, results are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and, in many instances, employees may be given a time period to clean up their report.

Employers, however, aren’t always as understanding. As was the case with Navy contractor background checks done after new federal homeland security requirements, a large percentage of contract workers were terminated after their routine reports brought back issues. Because these workers were not full-time employees, the negative marks on their screenings were not revealed at the time, and they had no recourse.

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Faculty at Florida University Question Background Check Policy

At the end of November, it was reported that the Florida Gulf Coast University faculty was speaking out against the recent background check policy. According to the Eagle News, the new policy, which went into effect on September 18, requires all current and applying employees to pass a “level 2” background check involving fingerprints. The prints are then run through a national criminal background check system.

Before the changes went into effect, only employees handling funds or working at the school’s Family Resource Center were screened. On November 16, teachers spoke up at the faculty senate meeting, questioning the necessity of the procedure and addressing the actual increase of safety it could bring and wasting taxpayers’ money.

One particular issue was the emphasis on sex crimes and convictions involving minors. Although, per the recent EEOC background check suggestions, criminal convictions cannot affect an employer’s status, this is not the case when the above crimes are considered. Additionally, faculty members mention that this policy won’t fully weed out sex offenders.

Criminal background checks have been considered as part of the college application process in the past, including its potential inclusion on the Common Application. Florida Gulf Coast University faculty also consider this procedure a must for their school. Michael Fauerbach, a professor in the Division of Ecological Studies, stated regarding this issue: “If you are serious about safety, we have to look into the students. Student-student interactions are more common than faculty-student interactions.”

Florida Gulf Coast University is not the only college to revise its background check policy in recent years. After the Sandusky scandal shocked the campus, Penn State made significant revisions to its policy before the fall semester. A greater pool of faculty was screened, as well as child abuse registries, credit history, and driving records examined for many candidates and new hires.

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Background Checks Now Required for School Bus Drivers in Iowa Town

Do you know your child’s bus driver, and just how well? Many parents take for granted that the bus driver pulling up to the curb every day does not have a criminal record. But, as schools have implemented background check policies for not only teachers but volunteers and visiting parents over the past few years, why should the bus driver be excluded? After all, such an individual is directly behind the wheel of a vehicle holding 20 or more children.

Such an issue surfaced in Osage, Ia., recently. Parent Kim Koenigs was researching bus safety issues for Kadyn’s Law, a recently-passed measure emphasizing greater penalties for motorist that violate school bus arm laws, and found that Iowa bus companies do not require background checks in the hiring process.

Since Koenigs proposed this measure, local education officials authorized thorough background checks for all district bus drivers.

As you know, not all background checks are the same. Will drivers for Osage schools simply be put through a state records criminal background check or more rigorous measures? These background checks, apparently, will examine dependent child abuse, child abuse, and sex abuse registries and review Iowa Courts Online for driving violations and criminal history. To decrease the possibility of incidents like those at Miramonte Elementary in California, the district plans to screen drivers every five years and will pay for all investigations.

As incidents like the series at Miramonte show, even the most tenured and apparently trustworthy teachers aren’t all they appear to be. Just as the teacher instructing a class of 30 students should honest about his or her background, from education credentials to an absence of criminal convictions, bus drivers coming in contact with students should have to pass a similar set of standards.


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The Effects of Background Checks on Schools: Volunteers, Athletics, Staff

Background checks are shaping school staff and volunteers all across the country. Various news stories from the past month show that schools are revising their background check policies for volunteers, unlicensed teachers, and student athletes. For staff, revising policies has not affected numbers; the amounts of volunteers and unlicensed teachers are still sufficient. For athletes, on the other hand, coaches object to recent criminal background checks conducted by CBS and Sports Illustrated on college athletes.

In Marietta, Ohio, more background checks are being performed on volunteers. 400 screenings have been run, and those who pass receive photographic identification badges. The district’s policy involves screening anyone interested in interacting directly with students; volunteers not with students are exempt. Checks look for felonies and misdemeanors.

Although increased checks have decreased the number of overall volunteers, the school district still has enough individuals at school functions.

In Utah, the Washington County School Board sees that background checks are necessary for all staff members, including unlicensed employees, and has revised its policy. Background checks have been conducted every five years on unlicensed employees, and each individual paid $44 each. With the revised policy, all unlicensed teachers pay the full fee.

While these two policies affect smaller school districts, a recent six-month study on criminal backgrounds of student athletes appears to hit college teams across the nation. Some, such as University of Wisconsin-Madison, think this study is too invasive and does not consider players’ behaviors at school.

The story from UW-M’s paper mentions a school player who was charged with burglary in 2007; since his time on the school’s team, however, this student has complied with school policies. The coaches for UW-Madison’s football teams think that background checks should not single out athletes but, instead, should be done on all students.

Back in July, we discussed a then-recent news story about including criminal background checks with the Common Application and how schools should use and evaluate this information. Do you think background checks should be required of all college students or athletes alone?

Flaws in NH School District Background Check Policy

A New Hampshire school district has flaws in its backgroud check policy, including not examining criminal histories carefully for each candidate.

When one of two background checks are used in a hiring procedure, which one do you go with? For school districts, screening applicants shouldn’t be a question of either-or. Rather, the district should be doing all it can to have the best and most-qualified candidates on staff. So, why does Franklin, New Hampshire, have two options for background checks?

According to a recent news story from The Concord Monitor, a business administrator in the school district was fired recently after a background check revealed that she has a history of theft. The worker, although not a teacher, managed funds for the school district, and the crime involved stealing $64,000 over four years.

Background check procedures vary with each town, but the state gives school districts two options to run background checks: a basic screening that only checks felonies on a “prohibited” list (murder, rape, and crimes against children) and a comprehensive investigation that lists all types of felonies of which a candidate could have been convicted. The cost is identical for both, and candidates need to get fingerprints, which are then checked against a national criminal database.

The article, additionally, mentions a weakness in Franklin’s hiring policy: not asking candidates if they have ever been convicted of a crime. Although other school districts ask this question, Franklin doesn’t give candidates for teaching and administrative positions the space to discuss their criminal past.

As this instance shows, an employer should always be careful with background checks. A candidate, such as this business administrator in Franklin, could have a criminal history directly related to his or her job. While criminals shouldn’t be barred from hiring, employers should consider those with misdemeanors and felonies in their pasts on a case-by-case basis. In this case, a more thorough background check should have been conducted on the business administrative candidate and should have included a history of all felonies – especially those involving money and funds. If this incident is any indication, New Hampshire should revise its background check policy.