Background Checks in Schools: Where to Draw the Line

Two articles were published recently concerning background checks for schools. One is about a law in South Carolina that would require background checks for substitute teachers, while another is about a school near Chicago that does quick background checks on visitors to see if one is a criminal or registered sex offender. Both articles have caused readers to wonder when doing background checks for those entering schools becomes obsessive.

In the case of substitute teachers, a sub is in the role for a day and anyone who comes in the classroom is essentially one-on-one with the students, no hall aid in the room to check the sub’s behavior to the students. While substitute teachers may be hired by the school or through a temp agency that does assignments, anyone entering the classroom to instruct and supervise students should be under scrutiny for a criminal background. Substitute teachers have been known to strike students, as one recent incident in a western Tennessee high school has shown. As students should be safe in the classroom regardless of who is standing at the front of the class, a background check is necessary to keep the room safe.

But what about background checks for anyone entering the building? Some think that, as long as a hall aid is present, a visitor doesn’t need a background check for entering the building. These background checks aren’t invasive, however. They merely do a brief check for criminal history, including being a registered sex offender. While some schools even have photographs of registered sex offenders posted out front, shouldn’t the students be protected, especially in areas with less security? While these background checks don’t examine a person’s education or financial history, knowing if a criminal or sex offender has entered the building is important for the safety of the students and staff, especially if the visitor can’t be watched at all times.