ABCs of Background Checks

When it comes to ensuring the safety of students, school districts must take preventative steps to avoid a crisis by conducting criminal background checks—as well as being aware of the following key considerations:

  • Criminals are called crooks for a reason: they take indirect paths to get around the system.
  • The name on a Social Security card, driver’s license and the application should be exactly the same. For example, “Carol” and “Carroll” are different names and would require separate searches. Criminal background checks performed using the applicant’s Social Security Number returns results for aliases, misspellings and maiden names – eliminating the need for multiple name searches.
  • A criminal background check is a “snapshot” of an individual’s record and only reflects data available at the time of the search.
  • Virtually all criminal records originate at county courthouses. Depending on time and resources, counties periodically report up to the state agency – and state agencies then report up to the national level. The information reported up to the state may be incomplete or not delivered in a timely manner, while states are not required to report up to the national level. Therefore, county courthouse records are the most accurate sources for background checks in the country.
  • There is no perfect or guaranteed national criminal history database. Even the FBI can’t guarantee a perfect background search. The FBI admits it only has about half of the nation’s criminal case disposition records.
  • In a county-by-county search, applicants declare counties where they resided during their adult life. A Social Security Number Trace examines credit activity to determine where an individual may have lived. While this search doesn’t guarantee a list of all residencies, it is the best available source for data beyond the individual’s declaration.
  • Out-of-state criminals, including sex offenders, will not appear in the state DPS system unless they registered with the state upon arrival.
  • Although an employee may have a clean criminal record at the time of hire, annual criminal history checks are strongly recommended since records are constantly being updated.
  • Since criminal records are complicated, it behooves a school district to have a reliable source to help interpret criminal convictions.
  • Initial criminal background checks may unearth surprising results, especially when some staffers have never been checked on the national level. To maintain damage control, it’s important school districts define local policies and procedures before conducting criminal background checks on all current employees.

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