School district must take lead on background checks - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

School district must take lead on background checks

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Posted: Saturday, November 10, 2007 9:26 pm | Updated: 6:10 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Scottsdale school district officials need to consider taking a much more active role in screening private-sector contract workers, particularly those employed in long-term positions on school campuses.

The role of private workers and background investigations is under higher scrutiny after the third sexually related crime in and around Saguaro High School in the past 14 months was reported last week. No system is perfect, but Tuesday’s arrest of a food-service worker accused of placing video equipment near girls’ skirts at school and July’s conviction of a custodian now serving 80 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl on campus last year is reason enough for such a review. (Another incident involved a substitute teacher who was a district employee accused of illegal sexual contact with a 17-year-old athlete.)

We are talking here about long-term workers from the private sector — such as custodians or food-service workers — provided by employment agencies to the Scottsdale Unified School District.

Private-sector workers frequently are at schools for brief amounts of time to, for example, install or repair equipment. Such temporary workers, who normally aren’t unauthorized to interact with children while on campus, are likely to be fairly easy to spot if they were to violate such a policy.

But long-term employees from the private sector, on campus throughout the school year, easily become part of the fabric of a school’s daily population.

Such workers should be scrutinized much more carefully and no longer by their employment agencies alone. Officials of Scottsdale’s district — and others in the East Valley should take note — should commission background checks from law enforcement agencies themselves and have that information in their hands, not merely in the hands of private employers.

Special Agent Deborah McCarley of the FBI’s Phoenix office told us Friday that the bureau performs national background checks involving federal and local law enforcement records for schools and would perform them for either public or private employees who are to be on campus, based in part on fingerprint cards, at a cost of $18 each.

Thus school districts would have their own documentation of the possible criminal history of any private-sector employee working on campus in a non-temporary capacity. Even though nothing is fail safe, $18 per worker would be a more than worthwhile expenditure to help insure safety and security on campuses.

In February, the Tribune reported, the Scottsdale City Council voted to require that the city conduct criminal background checks on all private-sector employees who work as contract workers for the city, superseding a previous policy in which the city relied on private firms to conduct the checks themselves. The Scottsdale school district should do the same.

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