Should You Be Conducting School Background Checks on Board Members?

As a former Violent Crime Detective, I was called upon to provide equal protection under the law.  What does that mean? Equal protection is a 14th Amendment protection that simply means that everybody receives equal protection under the law- no matter who they are.  This means nobody is above or below the law.

When I worked with victims of violent crime, sometimes the victims themselves were not always upstanding citizens.  Some of them were prostitutes, drug abusers, or alcoholics. Some of them had lengthy criminal records.  Guess what?  They deserved the same equal protection, under the law, as any law abiding victim.

As a detective, I was also tasked with investigating police officers who abused their spouse or partners.  This abuse could range anywhere from pushing and shoving to murder/suicide.  Investigations were even more complicated because during the early 1990’s, there was still a strong adherence to the “blue wall”. Police departments often operated under the belief that “cops take care of their own”.

Believe me, police officers survive by taking care of each other.  I have been on calls where a simple disagreement turned into a gun battle. Shots were fired with people being seriously hurt.  One of my friends, a fellow officer, was killed as we served a warrant.

But for me, a child, grandchild, cousin, brother, and husband of a police officer (active and retired), once a police office abused a spouse, partner, or child, a line was crossed placing them clearly on the other side of the law.  I always did my job with pride ensuring that violators were successfully prosecuted.

This is an example of equal protection under the law   Nobody, even officers themselves, are above the law.

So when I was recently asked about whether a school corporation should conduct school background checks on board members, my response was simple-  absolutely!

Why should an administrator or school board member be exempted from the school employment background check policy?  That sounds suspiciously like being above the law and a clear example of unequal protection.

“Unequal protection” in law enforcement is when groups of people are unfairly exempted from a policy.  For example, many states have mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence.  Yet, if a police officer does not make an arrest when it is another police officer, that is unequal protection. Unequal protection exposes the department to possible liability as well as the victim to increased danger. Obviously, the danger of continuing abuse increases when there is a lack of consequences and accountability.

When a school board member is excluded from the background check policy, it creates a flawed policy, reflects poorly with the rank and file, and increases the possibility of future embarrassment, even criminality.  It sends the message that those who approve policy are above it.

We have all witnessed elected officials who have fallen from grace.  A former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, was released from prison less than two months ago after being convicted of sexually abusing kids  while a wrestling coach and teacher before he was elected to office.

In the past few weeks, I have witnessed school board members in different parts of the country that have caused embarrassment for their school districts after being arrested.  In the Southwest, a new school board member resigned soon after taking his seat because of financial problems, bankruptcies,  etc.

In the Midwest, a large metropolitan school district was hit by partners in crime.  Two school board members, a husband and wife, were recently arrested after stealing a shopping cart full of merchandise.  It was later revealed that this was not the first criminal record for theft for one of the duo.

Thankfully, these last two examples of lack of oversight primarily resulted in embarrassment to the respective school corporations; however, what if the board members had been violent criminals or even sophisticated white collar criminals? The consequences of allowing unequal protection could have been much greater.

The bottom line is that whether elected or appointed, school board members have huge responsibilities and oversight and need to be held to the same background screening standard as all other school employees.

For more information on implementing a school board screening program, please contact us.  We provide this services for hundreds of school districts.