Safety hinges on workers’ honesty - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Safety hinges on workers’ honesty

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Posted: Friday, December 8, 2006 5:31 am | Updated: 4:43 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The question of whether Scottsdale Unified School District students would have been safer from sexual assault if only district employees worked on campuses didn’t get answered this week.

The question, raised since a teenager was the victim of an alleged assault at Saguaro High School in August, defies an easy answer. A now-former employee of a private custodial firm, discovered to be an illegal immigrant from Mexico, is accused of sexual conduct with a minor.

Such immigrants are themselves question marks; we know little about them. But since rampant identity theft is also committed by U.S. citizens — and many districts’ own employees have included teachers who have molested children — banning all contract help would hardly provide a more reliable safety margin.

Central to this question is how confident an employer can be of the results of background checks made of job applicants.

The accused, Roberto Lemus-Retana, 26, worked for California-based ABM Janitorial Services. After postponing action for nearly two months, on Wednesday the Scottsdale school board unanimously approved a contract through June with ABM, whose employees will work at about half the district’s school sites. Another firm will serve the remainder.

According to a district statement, ABM will continue to submit fingerprint cards for checks by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and will from now on have outside private investigators check court records across the nation wherever a job applicant has lived during the past seven years.

Retiring school board member Christine Schild said Thursday that children can be equally protected. “As I’m satisfied that the district has contractual safeguards in place, it doesn’t matter whether it’s contracted janitorial or inhouse janitorial (employees),” she said, pointing out that no other such allegations were made during ABM’s six years with the district.

Superintendent John Baracy said Thursday that no other firm he knows of that works with school districts has agreed to the process that ABM did.

Michael Poli, ABM’s Phoenix attorney, said Thursday that in applying for a job Lemus-Retana provided documents that appeared to be realistic.

“There was nothing in this guy’s background to indicate a danger,” Poli said. “There wasn’t like a red flag that got missed.”

So how does an employer seeking to hire only legal workers know whether new hires are who they say they are? Congress, whose only immigration solution so far involves building a fence, needs to address this right away.

The cost of education likely will keep rising, so many districts will continue to hire outside labor for jobs their own employees once did.

So, will campuses be safe? As safe as they can be, apparently.

No easy answer.

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