Editorial: Time to change teacher hiring policyLast week the Almanac published "When background checks miss the mark," about the hiring of an alleged child molester by a local school, which was unaware of past criminal investigations of the teacher in California and two other states that would have surfaced during an Internet search.
While researching the story, the Almanac discovered that many public and private schools in the epicenter of Silicon Valley don't use even a simple Google search when vetting candidates for teaching positions. Of 18 schools contacted, only three used the Internet and social media searches, and had only begun doing so after applicants started including links on their resumes.
The Almanac found that schools usually limit background searches to the state-mandated criminal history check, which indicates only charges or convictions. Although the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing maintains a confidential database of complaints against teachers in public schools, it can disclose only "final adverse actions" taken after charges or convictions. There is no credentialing database for private schools, which are considered independent businesses by the state.
The teacher in question was brought to our attention by former students who were aghast that he was continuing to teach despite the decades-long history of allegations. His tenure at the local school ended soon after the Almanac asked the principal about the prior allegations and the school conducted its own investigation. But the school was tight-lipped about details of the hiring process, and decided not to tell parents about the man's background after his departure.
Some Almanac readers were frustrated about our decision not to name the school or teacher. But in this case, the decision was made because the most recent alleged incident happened 10 years ago, the teacher has never been arrested or charged, and he now denies all allegations through his attorney, despite confessing to police during an earlier investigation. With the assertion via his attorney that he had left California and retired from teaching, the Almanac decided to publish a story without naming either him or the school.
In addition, not naming the school forces each school and parent to evaluate their own policies. Unless California schools dig deeper when vetting potential teachers, this will happen again.
State Sen. Joe Simitian told the Almanac that he's surprised by how many employers do not conduct minimal background checks by using the phone or a Google search. Of course the results of any search must be used carefully, and the search must be conducted within the guidelines of employment law. If administrators of the local school in this case had searched online, they would have found numerous postings and news stories about the teacher's alleged inappropriate conduct with students. The school would then have been able to ask the teacher to explain the incidents.
And what about the school's failure to inform parents about the situation? Sen. Simitian said he "would encourage every school or school district to ask themselves, can we in good conscience simply brush this under the carpet? Or do we have an obligation to confront the problem in a way that helps ensure that this is not a problem simply passed along to the next school?"