A recent, small-sample study performed by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported high rates of employees at both public and private schools who have convictions for sex-related crimes. No one employee group was singled out in the study, and researchers found people with records of inappropriate sexual conduct in all sorts of positions, including teachers, volunteers, aides, support staff and contractors.

Of the 15 high-profile cases investigated by the GAO, 11 of those involved abusers who had previously targeted children at least once before. Several of the offenders had worked at multiple public or private schools for a number of years while no red flags were raised about past misbehavior.

The GAO's investigation revealed that the system of federal and state background checks was failing to adequately keep alleged or convicted sex offenders away from the children the system was designed to protect. The GAO gave reasons why background checks were insufficient to screen potential school employees:

  • Background screenings were not performed at all -- some schools failed to conduct even cursory examinations into applicants' backgrounds, instead relying on the strength of resume experience and references
  • Background checks cannot uncover mere allegations -- if the applicant was never charged with a crime as a result of past behavior, no verifiable record will exist; suspicions are often not conveyed to police officials in spite of mandatory reporting laws. It is important to note, however, that allegations do not mean that the accused is guilty of or engaged in any inappropriate behavior.
  • If the applicant resigned his or her former position in the face of allegations of misconduct, the school district is hesitant to refuse to give a letter of recommendation or reference -- it is increasingly difficult, time-consuming and expensive to terminate a teacher, so many schools simply let the teacher resign to avoid confrontation
  • Potential employers ignore red flags -- some schools fail to follow up on even egregious issues like admissions of past misbehavior