Senate is getting serious about child welfare in public schools. Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin proposed a bill that would require schools in all states to raise the bar when performing background checks on employees and volunteers. The bill would disallow public schools from hiring anyone convicted of the following:
- Violent Crimes
- Sex Crimes
- Crimes against Children
The bill further requires the schools to pass on existing and prospective employees convicted of felony assault and/or drug offenses within the last five years. Additionally, school districts would no longer be able to engage in the practice of “passing the trash,” where employees suspected of child abuse are often sent to other school districts so that the current employer does not have to deal with the problem.
Currently, 12 states do not require any sort of background check on several non-teaching positions, including volunteers and classroom aides, and Toomey’s bill would aim to safeguard children on a much more comprehensive level.
Under the proposed bill, public schools must check all employees and volunteers against two state databases and two federal databases. Non-compliance with the bill would result in a loss of a portion of federal education funding.
Those opposed to Toomey’s bill cite three reasons for its rejection.
- If a school employee has committed a crime and paid his/her time, some members of senate believe that individual should not be further punished by being barred from gaining employment in public education. Toomey responded by stating that children should never be put at risk by exposure to anyone who has committed a violent or sexual crime against a child.
- Certain senators would like to see matters of public education handled at the state level, but Toomey argues the practice of passing the trash necessitates federal control in order to protect children (in 2014 alone, 459 school employees were arrested for crimes against children).
- Some contend that any provision that dictates how to handle school employees that are merely suspect of misconduct against a child and have not actually been convicted is an unfair and convoluted requirement. However, Toomey states that passing the trash occurs in many cases where sufficient evidence existed to terminate an employee but not necessarily to convict him/her.
The bill’s inception was inspired by a case of passing the trash, where an employee in Pennsylvania suspected of misconduct was passed to a school district in West Virginia. The employee ended up raping and killing 12-year-old Jeremy Bell in the district to which he was sent.
Though extensive background checks for employees and volunteers in public schools may seem controlling and invasive to some, the evidence indicates that the safety of children in schools is much more important than the convenience of the adults, and Toomey’s bill provides the perfect opportunity for the senate to show how much it values the well-being of America’s children.