The dog days of summer are upon us. Here in New England, the mid-August weather is hot and the beach-and-barbecue season is still in full swing. Yet thoughts are starting to drift to the coming school year, too. In a matter of weeks, we’ll be shipping our kids off in school buses and dropping them off at lessons and practices.
And in the back of many parents’ minds there will be a tinge of doubt, a little voice asking whether they’ve just handed their child over to competent and safe adults. It’s hard not to, considering all the disturbing stories in the media these days!
Anyone responsible for hiring education staff should be wondering the same thing. That’s why it’s important to utilize a professional background investigation firm like Hire Authority (www.hireauth.com; 508-230-5901) when choosing teachers, bus drivers, coaches, tutors—just about anyone connected with education.
There are lots of reasons. Right here in New England, recent sexual assault cases involving a music teacher and a martial arts instructor have raised eyebrows. All across the nation we hear stories of incompetent or substance-impaired bus drivers leaving kids off at the wrong stop, or crashing their bus. There are stories of underage sex involving mainstream teachers, and over-the-top discipline by coaches. The list goes on and on.
Whenever a horror story hits the news we ask ourselves, “How could this happen? Isn’t someone interviewing these people? Checking references?” The answer is yes . . . and no. You see, many of these educators presented impressive credentials and were interviewed. They managed to pass a screening process, only to commit some heinous act once they were hired. The stories range from pre-school level all the way up to the most respected universities.
In these cases, HR’s first line of defense is always lack of knowledge. But as the carny man says, close but no cigar. The “We didn’t know” defense only goes so far these days. In the past, I have spoken of the legal doctrine of respondeat superior, which means, “Let the master answer.” The doctrine says that an employer may be liable for the actions of its employee, even if the employer didn’t mean to hire a bad guy. Nowhere is the doctrine more likely to get you screwed than when hiring personnel who handle or care for children.
Why? The way the courts look at it, employers have the best chance to weed out the bad guys, and should be held responsible if they don’t do everything possible toward that end. This is especially true in the case of hiring for occupations in which health and safety are at risk. Which, of course, includes the care of children.
Here are some examples of education-related jobs where a candidate might get past the screening process without an in-depth background check:
Bus drivers: The driver you hired may have the right license and a clean driving record. But have you checked sensitive records for evidence of a substance abuse problem, or perhaps an anger management problem? Has this person ever been convicted—or even charged—with a sex crime?
Tutors: Here’s an especially sensitive situation. Academic tutors are often contracted out by private companies, much like a temp agency. When they are, they tend to work in the student’s home, or sometimes out of their own home. The same with music teachers and other extracurricular instructors. Unfortunately, the better the opportunity, the more tempting it becomes for a child abuser. Thorough and professionally-conducted reference interviews are vital in addition to a criminal check.
Daycare/Aftercare: Daycare is often combined with preschool, or in some states, kindergarten. A burnt-out or uncaring teacher can be dangerous to small children who rely on them. Same with aftercare providers. The right kind of background check can pull up red flags before you hire.
Coaches: Teachers and coaches are in the news these days for inappropriate relations with students. What we seldom hear about are the more subtle actions, like abuse inflicted by a coach who loses his temper. It’s not unusual, and it can get a school in hot water.
Employers of bad educators may be held jointly responsible because employers have the means at their disposal to weed out bad employees. So why not put those means to work? Utilize the services of a reputable background investigation firm like Hire Authority (www.hireauth.com; 508-230-5901).
Once you do, you can sleep easier knowing your students are in safer company.
The foregoing should not be construed as legal advice. Employers should always consult their own legal counsel for advice on labor and employment matters.
Author: Michael Cormier