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School contract employees aren’t being properly screened by education department, audit finds | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

The Michigan Department of Education is not adequately checking into the background and criminal history of contracted employees in the state’s public school system, an audit found.

A recently released report from the Office of the Auditor General determined the department did not properly monitor whether school districts were fingerprinting new hires and monitoring for criminal convictions as required by state law.

“The deficiency in obtaining individuals’ fingerprints is particularly concerning because the school districts would neither have FBI fingerprint-based criminal history information at the time of hire, nor be notified of criminal convictions after hire,” the audit states.

The audit estimated roughly 220 staff members, 4%, of the 5,010 contracted staff in the 41 districts surveyed were were never fingerprinted for employment. None, however, were listed in the sex offender registry, which would automatically bar anyone from school employment.

Three of 45 sampled staff, it also found, were not fingerprinted in a timely manner. In one case, it took 10 years. Five others had “serious criminal convictions,” but the education department did take “appropriate actions” later, the report found.

The education department, Michigan State Police and local school districts work in tandem to process the fingerprints and criminal records of any potential school employees.

These responsibilities are “designed to protect Michigan’s school children,” the report states, include potential employees undergoing a fingerprint-based criminal background check through the state police.

Those fingerprints are retained in a database called “Rap Back” to monitor any future convictions that could come up while one is employed with a district. The conviction monitoring system would notify the education department, which would then notify the school district and the district could use the conviction to determine employment eligibility.

The performance audit solely focused on the education department’s role related to fingerprinting and criminal conviction monitoring of contract staff working in Michigan’s public schools. This includes substitute teachers and workers in custodial, maintenance and food service.

However, the review concluded that the “deficiencies” within the report “likely extend to all individuals regularly working in schools.”

The audit recommends the education department implement procedures to better monitor the way district’s handle employee processing.

In its response, the education department disagrees it did not do its due diligence, stating it does not “confer the responsibility to oversee or monitor the fingerprinting process.”

The department believes that responsibility lies with the applicant, the district school board and state police. It did commit to bettering the monitoring process “in the interest of ensuring the safety of students.”

In addition to surveys of Michigan public school districts, the audit from July 2018 through June 2021, contains interviews with education department staff and observations of the department’s Rap Back process.

The audit also found the department was not always reliable in processing Rap Back conviction notifications and notifying the school district of new convictions. The department did not inform the employing school districts of Rap Back criminal convictions for 13% of contracted staff reviewed.

Further, the review states the department needs to ensure the removal of contracted staff from the Rap Back criminal conviction monitoring process is appropriate when needed. There were several instances where a former employee was continuing to be monitored, or a current employee was unnecessarily removed from the monitoring system.

“A sound removal process is critical because inappropriate removal of an active contracted staff from Rap Back criminal conviction monitoring can lead to immediate and future risk to child safety,” the report said.

Among the audit recommendations for the department to improve its fingerprinting and background check protocols, it suggests the education department seek clarification from the state legislature to ensure the law’s “overall intent is being met.” The review also noted Michigan does not participate in the federal Rap Back criminal conviction monitoring program, which could help strengthen its review of employee criminal convictions.

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