GAO report finds sex offenders working in schools

A look at common causes for such lapses, and how to prevent them


 A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows the country's schools in a new light-a very disturbing one. The report, requested by U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, examined 15 separate cases across the country in which schools hired or retained teachers, staff, coaches and volunteers with a history of sexual misconduct. The findings of this December 2010 report: an astounding 11 of the 15 cases included teachers or staff members who had previously targeted children with sexual misconduct. When these offenders moved on to their new positions, 6 of them continued to abuse more children. The report is available as a PDF download from the GAO here.

THE CAUSE
This new report came in response to a 2004 Department of Education report (PDF download of 2004 report) estimating millions of students between kindergarten and twelfth grade are victims of sexual misconduct at the hands of teachers and staff members. To select the 15 cases for the 2010 report, the GAO examined employment databases, the National Sex Offender Registry, as well as public records. What they found was concerning. Somehow repeat sex offenders were making their way into private and public schools as authority figures. A few main factors were found to be the cause.

1. Inappropriate disciplinary actions

In their previous positions, teachers and staff members found to be guilty of sexual misconduct with a child were allowed to resign rather than face disciplinary action. Not only were they then able to easily get a new job in another district without any red flags on their history, but they were often sent on their way with a positive letter of recommendation from school officials.
In one example, an Ohio teacher was forced to resign after inappropriate conduct with a female student. With his recommendation letter in hand, he managed to acquire a new job in another Ohio school district where he was later convicted of sexual battery against a female sixth-grader.

2. Lack of (or inadequate) pre-employment background checks

In 10 of the 15 cases, schools failed to perform any background checks before hiring teachers, some of which had past criminal convictions. Of those schools that completed background checks, they did so inadequately, failing to include a fingerprint search or to implement recurring checks to spot potential new problems.

In Arizona, a teacher was hired without a thorough background check performed. With a previous conviction for sexually abusing a minor, he went on to engage in sexual contact with a female student in the new school district and was convicted.

3. Ignoring red flags

One of the more surprising causes was that some of the applicants actually disclosed information about their criminal convictions on applications, but school officials failed to follow up with them.

In Arizona, a teacher was hired after disclosing information about a past conviction for a dangerous crime against a child. The school didn't follow up, and he was later convicted for sexual contact with a student.

Having a background check program in place can help avoid oversights such as this during the hiring process. We recommend protecting your organization and minimize the risk of hiring and individual with a sexual abuse history by implementing a comprehensive background screening program that includes a national sex offender check for every hire. Making sure you hire the right person is crucial, but perhaps equally important is ensuring the position continues to be filled by the right candidate. We recommend performing periodic background checks on current employees once a year.

[This article was authored by OpenOnline, a national provider of background check solutions.]