Despite an increasing amount of employers who conduct background checks on potential employees, registered sex offenders are still slipping through the cracks and are continually being hired despite their previous crimes. This is particularly a problem among public schools. A study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has discovered that there are gaps in the way public schools conduct their hiring. These gaps are permitting sexual predators to work in public schools and putting students in danger. The study showed that these gaps have resulted in repeated sexual crimes.
In fact, the GAO discovered that among those sexual offenders who were re-hired by schools 73 percent had a history of targeting children, and 40 percent committed new sexual crimes.
What are these gaps that are allowing sexual predators to sneak their way back into schools?
- Inadequate Background Checks
While more schools are conducting background checks during the hiring process, many are not covering their bases. It isn’t enough to just check your home state’s criminal records and sexual offender registry; many offenders commit crimes, move to a new state and are then able to find work in a school again because they appear to have a clean record. In addition to state records, you should also check national records.
- Schools Miss Obvious Indicators
Unless schools are diligent, it can be easy to miss obvious red flags. For example, the GAO discovered that in one situation a sexual offender left a question about prior criminal convictions blank on his application. It was overlooked, and the offender was hired with no further investigation.
- Unreported Sexual Abuse
Even if a person is suspected of committing a sexual crime, some schools do not report the abuse and allowed employees to resign rather than filing a report and terminating an employee for sexual misconduct. Resignation is usually preferable for both parties. Though ignoble, it’s preferred for a school because termination is expensive, can lead to litigation and negative media coverage. Resignation makes it easy for an offender to find work in a school again, as resignation is a lot easier to explain away than termination.
The GAO study also found that schools sometimes do not report abuse to local law enforcement, and some even provide recommendations to suspected sexual offenders if they left voluntarily.
Obviously there are many ways that schools can improve to keep sexual predators away from our children. For starters, school officials can close these gaps by being more discerning when looking at applications, running thorough background checks, and reporting abuse when it occurs.