A troubling report by the Government Accountability Office shows that individuals with a history of sexual misconduct are working in some neighborhood schools. In fact, some have been able to land new teaching or staff jobs after behaving inappropriately towards children in other school districts. The report by GAO
cites a number of breaks in the system that allow these individuals back into schools, due to incomplete background checks
or other administrative loopholes.
The GAO Report
The recently released GAO report examined 15 case studies in public schools that employed questionable individuals, according to a report at the Christian Science Monitor
. Of these 15 cases, 11 of the teachers or staff members had previously victimized children with inappropriate sexual conduct. In six cases, the individuals went on to abuse children again at their new posts.
The report was in part a response to another report released by the Department of Education in 2004, which estimated that millions of students in the public school system are victims of sexual misconduct
by school employees between kindergarten
grade. The GAO compared a national database of sexual offenders with employment records in 19 states from 2008 to 2009. The agency also reviewed public records and interviewed officials involved in dozen of sexual misconduct cases from 2000 to 2010.
What the Report Found
A report in the Washington Post
highlighted some of the shocking cases the GAO report found:
An Ohio teacher was mandated to resign because he exhibited inappropriate behavior towards his female students. Unfortunately, the superintendent of that district sent him away with a glowing letter of recommendation that helped him secure a new position in a nearby school district! While working in this new district, the employee was convicted of sexual battery involving a female sixth-grader.
In 2001, an Arizona school district hired a teacher without performing a thorough criminal background check. This teacher had been previously convicted of sexually abusing a minor, and he went on to have sexual contact with a young female student in this district as well, for which he was convicted.
A Texas teacher whose license was taken away due to inappropriate sexual behavior was hired by a Louisiana school district , who neglected to conduct a background check. The teacher now has a warrant out for his arrest after allegedly engaging a student in sexual conversations.
Representative George Miller (D-California), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told the Washington Post, "This report is horrific and incredibly troubling. It is very clear from GAO's work that there was a major breakdown in the schools highlighted in this report – and quite possibly, in many more schools across the country."
Where is the Breakdown?
Miller's accusation of a breakdown in the school system is unpacked by the GAO report, which identifies four key factors that contributed to the problem:
- Schools allow teachers to resign after inappropriate sexual behavior, rather than be disciplined for misconduct. This allowed teachers to obtain jobs in other districts without red flags about their previous work history.
- Some schools do not perform criminal background checks before hiring teachers to work in the schools. Some of the new hires actually had convictions in their past that were unknown to the school districts. This oversight was a factor in 10 of the cases GAO studied.
- Some of the background checks that were performed were not complete. Not all schools are required to have the Department of Justice perform fingerprint checks on every teacher and staff member that is hired into the district. Schools also do not perform recurring checks to stay up to date on potential problems.
- When a red flag appears on an application for employment, schools often fail to follow up with the applicant. For example, a teacher in Arizona put on his application that he had previously been arrested for a dangerous crime against children. The school never asked about his response and hired him anyway!
There are no federal laws governing the employment of sex offenders in schools, and state law varies widely. Robert Shoop, director of the Cargill Center for Ethical Leadership at Kansas State University told the Christian Science Monitor, "There are still school districts that don't want the publicity of having a person like that in their district…and have no ethical qualms about putting him or her in charge of children in other places."
While these breaches in protocol may not be the case in all school districts across the country, they are occurring far more often than school administrators, parents and lawmakers should be comfortable with. As long as there are breaks in the public school hiring system, children will not be completely safe from predators lurking in their schools.