employment background screening, teachers, criminal

Making the Grade

In Georgia, a teacher’s license was revoked after it was discovered that he exchanged sexual texts and photos with a female student.

A Florida teacher found herself suspended after she was charged with battery against a 6-year-old in her classroom.

NBC’s television show To Catch a Predator caught a Texas math teacher trying to meet a teenage boy in a sting set up by the show. 

All three of these teachers made their way back into the classroom, simply by crossing state lines, and they are not the only ones.

As parents, we send our children off to school every day, expecting them to be safe in the arms of thoroughly vetted teachers.  That is not an unreasonable expectation, but it may be a misguided one, according to an investigation conducted by USAToday and TEGNA Media.

The investigation, conducted over a year by the USA TODAY NETWORK, revealed a “patchwork system of laws and regulations” that leaves children in more than 13,000 school districts at risk.  Using open records laws in all 50 states, the journalists accessed and analyzed millions of records.  They found that:

  • States often fail to report the names of disciplined teachers to the only centralized system for tracking teacher discipline. Without entries in this database, teachers can freely move from state to state without restriction.
  • At least 9,000 disciplined educator’s names were missing from a clearinghouse operated by the nonprofit National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification. Around 1400 of those teachers had permanently lost their licenses – at least 200 of them due to allegations of sexual or physical abuse.
  • The systems states use to check the backgrounds of teachers are full of inconsistencies, which has led to dozens of cases where officials found out about a teacher’s criminal conviction only after the teacher was hired and already in a classroom with children. Further, the investigation found that eleven states do not check teachers’ criminal and work backgrounds before issuing licenses, leaving that work instead to each local district.

In order to assign each state a letter grade, the USA TODAY NETWORK compiled the information and assigned points based on three main criteria: how thoroughly a state checks a teacher’s background prior to issuing a license; whether the state shares licensing and disciplinary information publicly and whether it reports such information to a nationwide database; and whether the state has laws on the books that require educators, schools, and school districts to report misconduct back to the state.  Twelve states and the District of Columbia received a grade of “F”: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, New Mexico, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina, Washington, DC, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

In Georgia, where the final grade was a “C,” concerned parents can check disciplinary records from 2010-2015 by either school system or teacher’s name.

Third party background checks are a critical part of the hiring process, and should not be overlooked in favor of cost or convenience.  It is an unfortunate symptom of human nature that people often misrepresent their background and credentials on job applications, so having the tools in place to look into a candidate’s background is vital.  This type of background screening can include database and county-level searches, as well as reference verifications that speak to the character of the candidate.  Though this may represent an initial investment for the school districts, the children are, without doubt, worth the additional expense and the risk mitigation reduces liability as well as litigated expenses.

The federal government does not currently mandate teacher background screening, nor does it have any systems in place to ensure that information about abusive teachers is shared between states.  Over the last ten years, there have been a number of federal proposals to mandate background checks for teachers, to require states and school districts to share information about their disciplined teachers, and to keep school districts from facilitating the transfer of teachers accused of sexual or physical misconduct to another school system.  While many states and school districts do currently screen the teachers they hire, it seems clear from USA Today’s investigation that our children could greatly benefit from a more uniform and consistent application of background screening.

We at The Cedalius Group, the employment background screening provider you can trust, can think of few better reasons for comprehensive and intelligent criminal history screening better than our nation’s children.  As parents and grandparents ourselves, we recognize the extreme importance placed on the safety and well-being of our kids, and we believe that safety must start with the person with the closest, most ready access to children – the teachers.  We offer a full suite of tools designed to ensure that the teachers you hire for your school district are fully vetted before stepping a single foot into the classroom.  If you need more information on background screening for teachers, give us a call today at 404.963.9862 or visit us online at www.thecedaliusgroup.com

The Cedalius Group offers insight into the background screening industry for educational purposes.  We always recommend you consult with your legal counsel to determine practices that best suit your business needs.