Safe Hiring

By Anne Bridgman

The murder of a 9-year-old by a man who was hired by her school as a contractor spurred the Florida legislature to require criminal background checks for all adults who work at schools -- even if they don’t come into regular contact with children. The law, which went into effect Sept. 1, is the latest effort by policymakers and others to tighten requirements for those who work around children.

All states have laws that address background checks for school employees, but state laws and local policies vary. One question is whether contractors and others should be checked in addition to employees.

Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, calls the differences “a mishmash.” Schools, he says, “are managed by boards that establish policies. There are about 16,000 different school boards around the country, and they have policies that differ from board to board and from school to school. There’s a lot of variation.”

How background checks are done, who gets them, how often they’re updated, and how to prevent problems, Stephens says, are “reminders that we still have a ways to go to provide a safe and welcome [environment] for students.”

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