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May 22nd, 2014 | Sterling

Schooling Teachers on Sexual Abuse

Sen. Pat Toomey has been pushing a bill that would require more thorough and stringent background checks on teachers and other school staff. Mr. Toomey stated that “Since Jan. 1 of this year, [at least] 122 teachers have been arrested across the country for sexual misconduct with kids.”

Teachers are some of the most influential and important role models in the lives of our children. The majority of them are caring, knowledgeable and have the best intentions; however, due to the seemingly unlimited access to children, this career path can also attract sexual predators. Sen. Toomey’s bill is designed to help prevent these sexual predators from infiltrating the public school system.

According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, all but four states surveyed required background checks of public school personnel; however, the procedures varied extensively.

  • 36 states use both state and federal law enforcement data
  • 6 states use only state law enforcement data
  • 4 states don’t require background checks
  • 3 states use only federal law enforcement data
  • 1 state did not indicate the sources used for background checks

Additionally, only 17 states perform background checks on school volunteers and 36 states perform background checks on school contractors, all of whom have direct access to children.

The screening procedures for teachers vary from state to state and can even be different based on the school district that is hiring. Teachers are typically subject to fingerprinting and a national background check based on the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Although that sounds thorough and sufficient, it’s important to understand that it still leaves some holes that violent criminals can exploit.

The NCIC database consists of information regarding arrests, warrants, felonies, and misdemeanors as voluntarily reported by law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. Unfortunately, because reporting is voluntary, not all counties and states participate or they can be severely backlogged in entering their data.

Sen. Toomey’s bill proposes that every school employee undergo a state and federal criminal background check and that those checks be performed periodically.

In Tampa, an anti-sex-abuse bill known as the “Stop Harassing Underage Teens Act” has also gained momentum as it proposes more severe punishment for offenders. The bill was inspired by a former middle-school teacher who served three years house arrest and seven years probation after pleading guilty to lewd and lascivious molestation in 2005. Many believed that the teacher should have received prison time.

We constantly see headlines about children who have been abused by teachers, coaches, or other individuals in a position of trust. Although we can’t expect to solve the problem overnight or catch predators before they commit a crime, we can certainly mitigate the risk and reduce the number of incidents by performing thorough background checks for teachers, school staff, contractors, and volunteers.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.