Posted by Edmond Geary | Posted in Crimes against children, Lewd and indecent behavior, Oklahoma background checks, Sex crimes | Posted on 11-01-2010
The recent filing of charges against a substitute teacher at Duncan Schools has raised the issue of how schools check out their employees. In this case, Erwin Johnson has been charged with two counts of lewd proposals to a child, more particularly sending lewd text messages to one of the 16-year-old students at the school. The school district had run a background check on Johnson, but only within the state of Oklahoma. The school discovered Johnson had been convicted of second degree theft in the state of Washington in 2008 before the school district hired him as a substitute teacher.
Most citizens would expect extensive inspection of anyone placed in the midst of children at school, whether a full-time teacher or substitute teacher or janitor, for that matter. Whoever has daily, unsupervised contact with children is being vouched for by the school and should have been carefully investigated by the school. But as is so often the case, it is a failure to have done something, something everyone assumed already was being done, that makes the best lesson for correction.
Most districts pay $40 to $50 per day for non-certified substitutes to teach. Substitute teachers cannot be employed more than 70 school days during a school year if they are non-certified, but substitutes with a bachelor’s degree or a lapsed or expired certificate can teach 100 school days per year. Hiring requirements are set by each school district, and some small districts even allow high school graduates to substitute teach. Seventy school days is plenty of exposure to the students.
The Oklahoma Education Department requires all teachers in the state to pass a background check by fingerprint comparison with a national data base. But non-certified substitutes and other personnel are not required to have background checks.
Individual school districts can make their own rules, and there are 532 school districts in Oklahoma. Approximately 281 school districts requested background checks through the Oklahoma Education Department in the year 2008 and 291 districts in the year 2009. The Education Department files its requests with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for the background searches. Individual school districts can also obtain a background check through a private vendor. But individual school districts may not do any background check.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation processes fingerprint-based searches for the Education Department. These take longer to obtain results and are more expensive. Also the agency requesting the fingerprint-based search must have the statutory authority to seek them. Obviously, a fingerprint search is more thorough because it addresses a nationwide Federal Bureau of Investigation data base for fingerprint identification. A name-only search searches only for the name given by the applicant and within the State of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation charges $15.00 for a basic name search and $41.00 for a fingerprint search-based search that includes both state and national information.
The Oklahoma City Public Schools screens every employee applicant with a national name-based background check. The check costs $28.00, which is deducted from the employee’s pay if they are hired. The school district pays for volunteers and unsuccessful applicants. The Ardmore Public Schools perform their own search for the background of applicants. For a charge of $18.99, one of the administrative assistants does the checks on her computer based on name searches. Common names and false names can obviously defeat this search. Both these searches are name-based, so their limits are obvious.
One way to address the costs of such searches is to discontinue the practice of the school district paying for unsuccessful candidates’ background checks. The school could require any applicant, not the district, to pay for the background search as a prerequisite for application. This would likely require enactment of a statute, but the safety of the children is otherwise compromised by the schools’ use of inferior background checks, apparently influenced by the lower costs of the inferior name-based search.