GAO Reports on Cases of Public and Private Schools that Hired/Retained Individuals with Histories of Sexual Misconduct

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has published a report, Selected Cases of Public and Private Schools That Hired or Retained Individuals with Histories of Sexual Misconduct,  that reveals findings from 15 cases the GAO  examined in which individuals with histories of  sexual misconduct were hired or retained by public and private schools as teachers, support staff, volunteers, and contractors. Previous GAO testimonies have described cases of physical abuse of children at youth residential programs and public and private schools. Children, however, are also vulnerable to sexual abuse and the GAO was asked to (1) examine the circumstances surrounding cases where K-12 schools hired or retained individuals with histories of sexual misconduct and determine the factors contributing to such employment actions, and (2) provide an overview of selected federal and state laws related to the employment of convicted sex offenders in K-12 schools

In the 15 cases that were examined individuals with histories of sexual misconduct were, in fact, hired or retained as teachers, support staff, volunteers, and contractors. In at least 11 of the 15 cases, the offenders were individuals who previously targeted children. Moreover, in 6 cases, the offenders used their positions as school employees or volunteers to  abuse more  children.

The GAO found that the following factors contributed to hiring or retaining these individuals: (1) school officials  allowed teachers who had engaged in sexual misconduct toward students to resign rather than face disciplinary action, often providing subsequent employers with positive references; (2) schools did not perform preemployment criminal history checks; (3) even if schools did perform these back ground checks, they may have been inadequate in that they were not national, fingerprint-based, or recurring; and (4) schools failed to inquire into troubling information regarding criminal histories on employment applications.

Finally, the GAO did not find any federal laws regulating the employment of sex offenders in public or private schools and the laws at the state level were widely varied. For example, some states require a national fingerprint-based criminal history check for school employment, while others do not. State laws also vary regarding whether past convictions must result in termination from school employment, revocation of a teaching license, or refusal to hire. The full GAO report can be found at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11200.pdf and a summary can found at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-200.

Schools Must Proactively Provide Evaluations Under Section 504 and the ADA

A school district in Alabama violated Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it failed to realize that a  9th grade student’s extensive absences and his mother’s request for homebound instruction was connected to his medical condition, Crohns disease (Cleburne County School District 55 IDELR 110, May 21, 2010). The student enrolled in 9th grade in August 2008. In September 2008 he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Due to complications from his medical condition, the student missed numerous days of school  –he spent 90% of his time in the rest room.

The school district initially sent homework home for the student but when it became too difficult the mother requested a homebound teacher. The mother provided the principal with a note from the student’s doctor which recommended homebound services. The district denied the mother’s request for homebound services, informing her that the district could not afford a homebound teacher. Moreover, the school district received the student’s medical records, including a medical diagnosis, but the district never initiated a 504 evaluation. The parent later specifically requested a 504 evaluation, but after he had missed 30 days of school and she received no response to her request, she withdrew her son from school. Later, the mother sent a written 504 complaint to the White House which was forwarded to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Section 504 requires that school districts establish and implement procedures for identifying students with disabilities. In this case, OCR concluded that the district had a Section 504 referral process in place, but it did not follow the procedure. Additionally, the process did not specifically address students who have a medical condition that may affect their education. Here, the school district never evaluated the student to determine whether he was a student with a disability or whether he needed special education and related services, including homebound instruction.

The school district did not connect the dots. The student’s (1) failure to attend school regularly connected to (2) the parent’s request for homebound instruction connected to (3) the note from the student’s doctor and other medical information, should have tipped off  the district that the student’s medical condition was negatively impacting his education. Thus, school officials should have evaluated the student to determine whether he has a disability.

To remedy the violation, the Office for Civil Rights required that within 14 days after the student re-enrolled in school, the school district convene a meeting to determine whether the student, because of his disability, needs special education or related services. If the student is eligible for services, the school district will determine whether the student needs compensatory education services for the 2009-2010 school year when he  did not receive related aids and services.

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