News of a string of child sexual abuse charges at Minnesota schools provides a shocking reminder of the importance of child protection measures in our schools. It also serves as a reminder to schools – especially now that kids are back in the classroom – that vigilance and existing child protection measures can always be improved.
Just this week three teachers/coaches, one each from Providence Academy (Plymouth), Visitation (Mendota Heights), and Pacelli High School (Austin), were accused of child sexual abuse and released from their respective schools.
Turning matters like this over to police right away is the best practice for any institution. Implementing measures to prevent it from happening in the first place is even better. For instance, Minnesota schools require anyone who will be working with children to first pass a background check.
But what do background checks look for? And should the inquiries stop there?
Minnesota Public Radio sought out to answer questions about the efficacy of background checks in detecting and preventing sexual abuse. It found that the basic
Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) check only looks at Minnesota arrests, possibly leaving out arrests or convictions in other states as well as federal and FBI records.
But what about educators who have no criminal history? A background check, no matter how thorough, would not pick up on more nuanced “red flags” that suggest inappropriate behavior.
Then what is the answer?
Schools must do more, just as any prudent employer in this day and age would. For starters, they must:
1) Talk to the applicant’s references
2) Google the person
3) Search him/her on social media
4) Call the applicant’s former employers
What these measures add in time and effort is more than made up in safer environments, missed opportunities for abuse, and increased awareness of who exactly is spending so much time around our children.
As we watch our kids head off to school again, we should only have to worry about their grades, not their teachers.