Johnston County schools might expand background checks

Policy could include all employees, not just new hires

dquizon@newsobserver.comDecember 26, 2012 

Employees of Johnston County schools might face ongoing criminal-records checks to ensure they’re not getting into trouble while on the job. The superintendent’s staff introduced the measure at a school board meeting earlier this month. The board will consider it in January.

People seeking jobs with the school system already agree to background checks before they’re hired. The proposal would expand that to include routine checks to make sure employees aren’t breaking the law while working for the district.

Robin Little, the school system’s chief business officer, said the checks could be done annually, monthly or even daily. One likely option would be to check a portion of the school system’s workforce every month.

“There’s a lot of ways this could be done,” Little said. “It depends on what the board wants to do.”

A similar policy is already in place in the Wake County Public School System, and board members there agreed earlier this month to expand it. Previously, Wake County had done ongoing checks on all bus drivers and volunteers. Moving forward, the checks will include all employees, said Samiha Khanna, a spokeswoman for Wake County schools.

“When conducting these background checks, WCPSS consults multiple databases, including state and national court records, department of correction records and state and national sex offender registries,” Khanna said via email.

School employees in both counties must report when they’ve been charged with or convicted of a crime.

It’s hard to hide an arrest from administrators, but it does happen, Little said. If an employee is arrested out of state, it can sometimes slip through the cracks, she said.

Arrests have brought Johnston County schools unwanted attention twice this year. In September, Winston Antonio Evans, a teacher’s assistant at Smithfield-Selma High School, was charged with distributing heroin “in, on or within 1,000 feet” of a school. Former Archer Lodge Middle School teacher Paul Clifton Canally was arrested in March on numerous charges, including statutory rape and taking indecent liberties with a child.

Little said the policy proposal was not connected to any specific incident. The schools here have run into cases where an ongoing background check could have alerted officials to misconduct earlier, Little said, but she would not go into details.

“I don’t want to get into it,” she said. “It cannot be tied to any employee.”

School board members will not vote until next month, but at least two of them — Peggy Smith and Keith Branch — said they liked the idea. Smith said the board would have to clear the policy with its attorney, but it’s “really a no-brainer.”

“We’ve had situations where we had adults abusing children, and had we followed this policy before, we could’ve prevented it,” said Smith, a former principal in Johnston County. “It might’ve given us more relevant information.”

Branch noted that private-sector employers routinely check up on their employees. “Personally … I know other companies and employers do that,” he said. “And if the employees know we’re going to do that, I don’t see any problem with it”

Quizon: 919-836-5768

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service