States Beefing Up Efforts to Keep School Children Safe

States are beefing up their efforts to keep school children safe, and rightfully so. After all, schools are responsible for what happens to children while they are in their care. Safety at school involves more than keeping children away from people with a history of committing sexual crimes. It also involves keeping children safe from school employees, volunteers and contractors who have committed other violent acts that could put children at risk.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania Take Steps to Keep Children Safe

New Jersey is a state that informed its school board members that they had to submit to a background investigation or forfeit their jobs. Surprisingly, 350 school board members failed to take the background investigation by the December 31, 2011 deadline. This turn of events puts schools at risk not only in regards to image and public perception. It also puts school districts at risk in regards to administrative tasks, financial management, etc. as hundreds of school board jobs may be left vacant, permanently or temporarily.

Neighboring Pennsylvania also mandated that public and private school employees submit to background investigations. Akin to New Jersey, Pennsylvania gave school employees until late December to complete their investigations. The new background investigation requirements came after a change to the state’s school code was made on September 28, 2011.

About the new law, the state’s Department of Education said, “The new law includes an important mechanism to help ensure that current school employees, who may not have been subject to a previous background check, are now required to provide assurances that they have not been previously arrested or convicted of Section 111(e) offense.”

What Might Have Prompted Changes to State Education Background Check Laws

The new law goes on to state, “In addition, school employees will be required to report to the School Administrator within seventy-two (72) hours any arrest or conviction of an offense listed in Section 111(e) that occurs after September 28, 2011.” State and national criminal databases are checked during background investigations. Student teachers or teachers in the process of becoming licensed educators are also required to submit to background investigations. Furthermore, in Chicago, substitute teachers must now undergo background investigations.

It’s not clear what prompted changes to the laws in Pennsylvania or Chicago. Perhaps recent college child abuse scandals (e.g. Penn State, Syracuse University) drove the changes.

What is clear is the immeasurable value of a child. School should be a safe place. In fact, for some children it’s the only place where they do feel safe. School officials who recognize and initiate new laws, policies and procedures to further protect children understand how much is gained when children are educated in safe, nurturing environments. Hopefully all states will strengthen their background investigation policies, possibly helping to avoid future incidences of child abuse or neglect made by school employees or volunteers.

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Sources: (NBC New York: 350 NJ School Board Members Must Resign for Failing to do Background Checks) (Pennsylvania Department of Education: Background Checks) (MicroBilt: See Solutions)

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