By Thomas Ahearn
While all employers have a responsibility to provide safe workplaces for their employees and the public, schools have an additional obligation to protect what is considered to be a “vulnerable” population: school children. One way to do this is through background checks of teachers and other school workers.
Each state has different requirements for background checks of teachers. Along with teachers, school leaders should also consider background checks for other jobs at schools that include administrators, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, coaches, custodians, landscapers, and volunteers, including parents.
The background checks that schools conduct on workers will vary somewhat due to the job position and state requirements. However, most of the background checks of teachers and non-teaching school workers should include some of the usual components of employee screening listed below.
Criminal Records Searches
A criminal records search is a critical element of background checks. A teacher’s criminal history may be a disqualifying factor if it involves violence, sexual abuse, child abuse and neglect, and drug offenses. State law often mandates which criminal record will prevent a teacher from obtaining a license.
For non-teaching positions, schools need to exercise due diligence with appropriate background checks. In some states, schools may be required to utilize fingerprint checks. However, these types of checks are not always perfect. Schools may choose to supplement their checks by using a private screening firm.
A screening firm can perform criminal record searches at the county, state, and national levels. “County” criminal records searches are searches for records kept at county courts in the United States. A search of counties where the subject lived, worked, and attended school in the past seven years is preferred.
“Statewide” and “national” criminal records searches can be suitable as supplements to – but never as replacements for – county searches mainly due to some records being incomplete or not fully updated. They cover a larger geographical area than county searches and are an additional layer of due diligence.
“If a criminal record is found, state law may mandate what a school is to do. However, it is important to remember there are rules concerning the fair and legal use of criminal records,” explains Attorney Lester Rosen, the founder of Employment Screening Resources (ESR), which is a service offering of ClearStar.
Rosen says that schools should be aware of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on the use of criminal records as well as “Ban the Box” and Fair Chance Hiring laws. A school should check with their attorney to ensure they are in compliance with applicable state and federal law.
Obviously, a teacher needs to have the proper teaching degree from a college or university to teach at a school. Education verifications allow school leaders to verify that teachers have the proper certifications and degrees, and that they attended accredited schools and not phony businesses offering fake degrees.
Professional License/Credential Verifications
Professional license/credential verifications are available for any teaching license/credential issued by a state or federal licensing board or agency and find license held, current status, and expiration date with the licensing board in question. Additional certifications, restrictions, or reprimands are also reported.
A background check of a teacher includes an employment verification to verify any past jobs listed on a resume. Employment verifications may reveal if a teacher lied on a resume or was fired from a past job for misconduct. Also, some states and cities prohibit questions about the salary history of applicants.
Personal & Professional Reference Checks
School leaders may be surprised by what they can learn through “personal” and “professional” reference checks. Some job positions – such as teachers – rise above the need for a basic employment verification and require a deeper look into character, performance, dependability, and trust.
Sex Offender Registry Searches
Sex offender registry searches can help determine if an individual is a registered sex offender. This search is particularly critical to organizations that serve vulnerable populations such as children. This search is recommended for positions with unsupervised access to – or control of – vulnerable persons.
Social Media Screening
Some employers use social media to screen job candidates, although there can be legal landmines with privacy issues. However, if a teacher is hired, commits a harmful act, and is later found to have posted inappropriate words and images on social media, a school may be asked why it did not check.
Driver Record Searches
While many school jobs do not require a check of driving history, a driver records search is a central part of the background check process for school bus drivers. This search verifies if a driver has the necessary license to drive a school bus and may uncover a history of violations indicating unsafe driving habits.
Since schools are drug-free workplaces, and drug testing is commonplace in professions ranging from police officers to truck drivers, some people believe teachers who spend time with children should be subjected to random drug tests. However, some teachers believe drug tests violate their privacy rights.
Other searches include a Social Security Number (SSN) trace to identify names and addresses used by applicants, “credit checks” if a position involves handling money, “international” searches if applicants lived/worked outside the U.S., and “continuous screening” after initial checks. All have legal concerns.
Other Ways to Protect Children
“Although background checks are a critical part of any child protection program, schools need policies, procedures, and training aimed at protecting children. Teachers should be trained to spot situations where a child is potentially at risk and the signs that someone could possibly be an abuser,” says Rosen.
He continues, “There should be policies and training regulating adult/child interaction, and attention paid to physical security, such as whether a closed off space presents an area of potential risk. In many states, teachers may be mandated by state law to undergo training and to report certain suspicious activities.”
Most employers conduct background checks. While schools can try to perform them, they may want to outsource the task to a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) – the official name for a background check provider – that is accredited by the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA).
Outsourcing background checks to a CRA means the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) applies and schools must comply with FCRA obligations. This includes providing a “clear and conspicuous disclosure” for a background check “in a document that consists solely of the disclosure,” according to the FCRA.
“Background screening is a complex professional endeavor that is increasingly subject to regulation, litigation, and legislation on both the state and federal level. Employers need to carefully select a background screening firm that has an understanding of these regulatory complexities,” Rosen says.
NOTE: View “Child Protection Training Resource Sponsored by ESR” on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p66FCbFFDLk.
NOTE: Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – a service offering of ClearStar – does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information is for educational purposes only.
Thomas Ahearn is a digital content editor at Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a service offering of ClearStar, a leading HR technology firm specializing in background, drug, and health screening for employment. To learn more, visit ESR at www.esrcheck.com and ClearStar at www.clearstar.net.