[author: Kendra Berner]
ISBE released a Fall 2012 Guidance Document on criminal history records information (CHRI) checks, including direction on two topics that often generate confusion: background checks for student teachers and background checks for contractors that may have “direct daily contact” with students.
With respect to background checks for student teachers, ISBE intends to seek an amendment to the relevant section of the School Code, Section 10-21.9(g). The Section is currently unclear as to whether the school district or university will conduct the check, what kind of check is required, and under what authority the check can be done. In the mean time, ISBE recommends that the school district to which the student teacher will be assigned conduct a finger-print based Illinois and national CHRI check as well as a check of the Illinois Sex Offender Registry and Illinois Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registry. The student teacher must authorize and pay for the check, and the district must provide the student teacher a copy of the report.
While districts can allow new hires to begin work after simply initiating a criminal background check, the background check of a student teacher must be completed before he/she begins student teaching. As with other employees, the district cannot allow a student teacher to teach if he or she has been convicted of any offense listed in Section 21B-80 of the School Code, which includes narcotics offenses, sex offenses, murder, Class X felonies (e.g., aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery of a child, armed robbery, home invasion, aggravated arson), and sexual or physical abuse of a minor.
The CHRI report on a student teacher may only be shared with the State Superintendent of Education and the State Educator Preparation and Licensing Board. If a district decides to reject a student teaching candidate based on his or her CHRI report, the only information the district can provide to the student’s university concerning the report is whether it includes an offence listed in Section 21B-80 of the School Code.
With respect to background checks for contractors, ISBE does not define “direct daily contact” but leaves the determination to the district in consultation with the contractor. The contractor has the responsibility to make the employees available for CHRI checks, and the district is responsible for reviewing the reports and determining whether any employee has a conviction that would bar him/her from being on campus. The district must provide the employee a copy of the report but cannot share the report with the contracting firm.
Additionally, pursuant to Section 10-21.9(h), school districts must provide, upon request of a school, school district, community college district, or private school, the criminal background check reports of employees of contracting firms that have been obtained in the last year. ISBE recommends that such institutions have policies dealing with sharing these reports to address issues such as staleness, confirming authenticity, and obtaining follow up information.
Districts should also have a policy in place for addressing criminal history that would affect the district’s decision to hire an employee, allow a student to student teach, or allow an employee of a contractor on campus but is not addressed in Section 21B-80. Such a policy is important to ensure that standards are implemented consistently and help avoid charges of discrimination.