• from The Columbus Dispatch - "FBI's system for screening school employees is badly flawed"

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FBI's system for screening school employees is badly flawed

May 14, 2003

By William L. Bainbridge

School officials nationwide have been encouraged by state and federal agencies and associations to rely on the FBI system of school-employee background checks. Unfortunately, the process has resulted in headlines that are sadly familiar:

"Bus driver charged with sex crime"; "Teacher uses false credentials to do it again"; "Coach alleged to have sexual relations with players"; "Administrator charged with sexual misconduct with student"; "Custodian molests boys."
This is because procedures used by the FBI, its state counterparts or other state agencies and local school districts to weed out sexual predators, embezzlers and other threats to our childrenís schools are easily circumvented.

The biggest flaw is that nobody is confirming the identity of the people being fingerprinted to receive licenses and certificates that qualify them to work with our children.

The Columbus Division of Police technical services bureau provides fingerprinting services for people applying for all sorts of licenses for agencies around the country, and it is well-aware of the ID problem. The bureau distributes a simple disclaimer letter that reads: "The Columbus Police Department provides the service of fingerprinting individuals presenting themselves to us for various reasons. Although the attached fingerprints were taken here, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the person we fingerprint is the same person they are hiring. Fingerprinting cards should be completed with all information verified by the employer (i.e., name, Social Security number, date of birth, place of birth, etc.). It is not the responsibility of the Columbus Division of Police to verify ID."

And I have firsthand experience with the ID dilemma. I own property in a southern state, and believing that being licensed as a school administrator there someday might be worthwhile, I wrote to the education agency. To my amazement, the agency put me in charge of managing my fingerprinting process and directed me to go to any law-enforcement agency in the country, have my fingerprints taken and mail the fingerprint card back to them. Thus, I easily could have altered the document, and no copy of it was made.

No one asked for identification. Any applicant could have been a convicted felon, and I could have been his friend, relative or paid accomplice.

None of this is the fault of the bureaus, civil servants and law-enforcement agents involved in the process: Itís the system.

At the very least, what is needed is an independent validation of school employee identity. Most school systems in the United States do not conduct thorough background checks of their employees, including a review of records that could reveal identity deception such as Social Security verification, county courthouse criminal record searches and employee drug testing.

This issue has had extremely high visibility. In 1998, Dan Rather featured a segment entitled, "Teacherís Pet" on CBSí 48 Hours. The same year, NBCís Tom Brokaw presented a similar expose, "Making the Grade." Both features addressed the abhorrent practice of allowing predators to move from school district to school district and state to state. The practice is so common it has a name: "passing the trash."

Nevertheless, most school systems have not taken advantage of modern employment-industry data services.

Many crimes against children could be avoided if schools would adopt reliable tools to verify information on prospective employees. The challenge to parents and guardians is to find out if their children attend schools where employees are screened and properly identified via other than flawed federal and state searches.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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