A new government report released today found that individuals with histories of sexual misconduct were hired or retained, in at least once instance, breaking existing state laws that prohibit offenders from being near children or on school grounds. The report, issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and conducted at the behest of U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, highlights 15 cases of public and private schools hiring or retaining teachers, support staff, coaches and volunteers who had histories of sexual misconduct. In at least 11 of the cases, the offenders who were hired or retained had previously targeted children. In at least 6 of the cases, the offenders abused more children after they were hired.
"This report is horrific and incredibly troubling. It is very clear from GAO's work that there was a major breakdown in the schools highlighted in this report - and quite possibly, in many more schools across the country," said Miller. "Our schools have a fundamental obligation to children and parents that all students are safe at school at all times. What we see here is a major violation of that trust and very poor judgment by some school officials. I hope to work in a bipartisan way to develop legislative options that ensure the steps that need to be taken at the local level actually take place to prevent these types of abuses from happening again to another child."
"As someone who has focused on preventing violence and keeping children safe in schools, I am extremely concerned about the information contained in the GAO report," said U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities. "The report identified instances, including one in New York, where school employees with histories of sexual misconduct, were working in schools. It is unacceptable that our children are being put at risk because of system loopholes which result in dangerous people being passed along from school to school."
GAO selected 15 cases in 11 states using employment databases, the National Sex Offender Registry and other records that showed individuals with histories of sexual misconduct were hired or retained by public and private schools as teachers, support staff, volunteers and contractors.
GAO found the factors contributing to hiring or retention included school officials allowing teachers who had engaged in sexual misconduct toward students to resign rather than face disciplinary actions, often providing subsequent employers with positive references.
For example, in one case in Ohio public schools, a teacher was forced to resign after it was found he had inappropriately conducted himself with female students. Following his resignation, the teacher received a letter of recommendation from the school superintendent calling him an "outstanding teacher." The teacher was subsequently hired by another school district in Ohio, where he was later convicted for sexual battery against a sixth grade student.
Another factor that GAO cited as a reason offenders were hired or retained was that schools did not perform pre-employment criminal history checks or some schools did checks, but the checks were inadequate because they did not include a fingerprint search.
In Florida, a public school allowed an adult to work as a volunteer coach, despite his prior conviction for having sex with a minor. School policy required that volunteers be subject to criminal checks, but the school failed to conduct the check. The volunteer coach was eventually arrested for sexual contact with a student who was on one of the school's sports teams.
GAO also found schools failed to inquire about missing or troubling information in an applicant's employment history. In Arizona, a school did not conduct a background criminal history check while trying to fill a teaching position. The teacher who was eventually hired had been previously convicted for sexually abusing a minor. He disclosed this information, noting that he had committed a dangerous crime against a child, on his application but school officials did not follow up with him or with law enforcement for more information. While teaching at the school, he was later convicted for sexual contact with a young student.
According to the report, "no federal laws regulating the employment of sex offenders in public or private schools and widely divergent laws at the state level, especially with regard to requirements and methods for conducting criminal history checks on employees."
This is the first of other GAO reports about physical abuse of children in schools and physical and sexual abuse in child care programs. The remaining reports are expected next year.