Thousands of adults who work in Chicago Public Schools will undergo fresh background checks this summer before classes resume, the district has announced.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the background checks are part of a large-scale effort to obtain updated information about workers’ backgrounds in the wake of the newspaper's investigation of how the school system deals with sexual misconduct complaints.
Officials say that if school-based workers do not go through a background check by the time students return for the 2018-19 year, they will not be permitted to enter schools.
That means teachers, coaches, volunteers, vendors and other workers who regularly work inside of CPS buildings will have their records re-examined as the district tries to shore up its employment process.
Roughly 13,000 employees do not have their fingerprints on file, a district spokesman says. About 10,000 vendors and volunteers also will need to be fingerprinted over the summer. The cost for the renewed background checks could be as high as $2 million, the district says.
In a news release, Chicago Schools CEO Janice Jackson described the sweeping background check effort as “unprecedented.”
“I want parents to have comfort that all of the adults in our schools will safeguard their children, and this is an important and necessary step toward rebuilding the faith and trust that our parents have in their school district,” Jackson says.
The Tribune’s investigation found the district failed to protect children from sexual abuse and assault by school workers. Among other problems, it found that some employees who abused students had criminal backgrounds.
The school system conducts background checks on prospective teachers, volunteers and contract workers to ensure they have not committed an offense on a long list of “enumerated crimes” that would bar them from city schools. But the district has not effectively checked for arrests and convictions that occur after the person is already employed.
In committing to periodic background checks on employees, the Chicago district identified athletic coaches as “a particular area of concern,” and said the screening of coaches would be centralized and more rigorous starting next school year.