Background Checks


 A shocking article appeared in the Los Angeles Times last month.  It was about a teacher who was accused of sexually abusing one of her female students, beginning when that student was in the eighth grade and continuing throughout high school.  Although the abuse ended seven years ago, the victim said she was coming forward now because “she didn’t want her own children to experience what she went through.”  The former teacher admitted the abuse in a recorded telephone conversation with her former student.
 Only four months ago, the teacher in question was hired as a vice principal at a high school in California.  Once the recorded conversation was made public, she resigned her position the same day. 

 What makes this incident so disturbing is the fact that the principal who hired the former teacher said she received “stellar recommendations” and that a background check was completed before she was hired.
 Could this unfortunate situation have been prevented?  Probably not.  Why?  Despite the fact that, as early as 1999, when rumors of the alleged abuse began to surface, an investigation was done by both school and law enforcement officials; but no arrest was made, no charges filed, and no disciplinary action taken.  In addition, the teacher was allowed to resign with the promise of a good recommendation.
 A background check would not have revealed anything since there was no record of anything on file.  Therefore, a court check would have come back clear.

 Second, despite the rumors, the teacher was allowed to resign with the promise of a good – but intentionally misleading – recommendation.  It is a sad fact that many school corporations believe the best and quickest way to get rid of an incompetent or immoral teacher is to give that teacher the option of either being fired or voluntarily resigning – with the offer of a good reference as an inducement to resign.
 So, rather than tell the truth about this particularly teacher, school officials knowingly withheld information about the teacher’s alleged immoral behavior and about the conditions surrounding her departure.
Interestingly enough, the victim is considering a lawsuit alleging “misconduct” on the part of the school district that hired the teacher.  It seems likely that the victim will win because it’s clear that important information was intentionally withheld.
 Is there a moral to this unfortunate story?  Yes.  School corporations would be well advised to provide both factual and truthful information about departing teachers or administrators when serving as references for them.  As the Times article states, “They call this ‘passing the trash,’” which needlessly puts students in harm’s way.