The Des Moines Register reported this week most teachers’ aides hired by Iowa’s public schools aren’t required by state law to undergo background checks and even when districts do run checks, the process is often less rigorous as the one required for licensed educators, according to the Associated Press.
Federal criminal checks were added as part of the teacher licensing process in 2002, while Iowa law was changed in 2007 to require state and national checks on those licensed by the state. “The system is built to have multiple checks,” said Duane Magee, executive director of the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners, which issues licenses to teachers, coaches, administrators and others.
“We do a fingerprint check through the FBI, we use Social Security numbers, we use names. If there’s false information, that’s going to get caught. If there are things in other states, that’s going to get caught,” he said, but most teachers’ aides aren’t licensed and aren’t covered by state regulations.
Experts and parents say the case of a woman who spent time in an Indiana prison on manslaughter charges and was hired as a teacher aide in Iowa shows there are gaps in the system. Paula Pace had worked for the BCLUW consolidated school district based in the central Iowa town of Conrad since 1998. School officials learned recently that Pace was Paula Baniszewski, a member of an Indianapolis family who tortured and killed a girl in 1965. The school district fired Pace last week for falsifying her job application.
Federal criminal checks can add cost and time to the hiring process, said Ken Trump of the National School Safety and Security Services, based in Cleveland. “There are many holes in the background check process for school employees, but that isn’t an excuse particularly in the eyes of parents who have a felony offender in their child’s school,” Trump said.
Iowa lawmakers last session discussed requiring comprehensive background checks for all school employees who work with students. But the resulting bill only required state checks on bus drivers, leaving school leaders to make their own decisions about pre-employment screens for other support staff applicants.
Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, said the issue is likely to surface in the upcoming legislative session: “I think we need to connect those dots and make sure there’s not something someplace else that they’re not telling you about,” Byrnes said.