The Boston School Department deserves praise for putting the safety of its students first and foremost. Recently while conducting system-wide background checks of all of its 9,000 employees, the Department identified 14 employees with criminal charges and either fired or placed them on administrative leave.
[Read the article here]

Criminal records ranged from possession of drugs to rape charges. These were not necessarily convictions, but the Department has a policy proposal on the table for school officials to consider non-convictions in making employment decisions.

We recently had a client in who was recruiting for a janitorial position at a school. Had the focus been solely on convictions, the person who was “only” arrested 8 times for child molestation – not “convicted” – would have gotten the job to work in a school. Why hadn’t the person been found guilty or convicted, you’re wondering? After ordering the police report and full court records, it turned out the witnesses and minor children would not testify against the defendant. Imagine if Jerry Sandusky’s victims would not testify, would he still be out there abusing children?

Although we do not suggest focusing on arrests, it can paint a picture and provide information that can be vitally important to an employer. Employers have a right to know who they are hiring.

The background screening industry is often at odds with lawmakers who create laws, rules and regulations guiding what information can be used in determining a job candidate’s suitability for a position without considering what it’s like to be in the employer’s shoes. As an employer – and if you aren’t, picture yourself as one – wouldn’t you like to know if a potential employee has had multiple run-ins with the law, uses alias or bogus names, was arrested for impaired driving, and charged with rape although not necessarily convicted? A thorough background check can reveal all of this information (and more), allowing the employer to make an informed hiring decision.

Now picture yourself as the head of a school department where your responsibility is to ensure the safety of students and other workers. It would make sense to not only perform background checks on all job candidates, but to repeat the screening throughout the employee’s tenure just to uncover any “fresh” information (ie. new infractions, charges) that would cause you to question the suitability of this person for the job. How would you feel if the law requires that you cannot use a non-conviction as the basis for vetting employment? How would you feel as a parent of a child attending school within that department’s jurisdiction?

It is my belief that thorough, proper background checks, drug testing and credit checks can reveal a wealth of information to help an employer paint a true picture of a potential or existing employee. Especially when it comes to children – be it in school, a daycare, camp, or anywhere – it’s every leader’s duty to protect them from any harmful situations, which includes limiting their exposure to anyone associated with drugs or other criminal activity. Regular background checks are an effective, preventive tool worth funding in any school department budget. If more school departments operate like Boston’s, our schools – and our children – would be in a safer place. What price is too high to put on the safety of children?

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