Thirty candidates have yet to be officially hired at St. Mary’s public schools after a new state-mandated background check went into effect this year, resulting in vacancies in school positions.
House Bill 486, or the child sexual abuse and sexual misconduct code, that became law July 1 requires specific documentation from candidates applying for public and nonpublic school positions to show whether an applicant has ever been disciplined for allegations of child sexual abuse or sexual misconduct.
“Candidates have to fill out a form and send it to their [former] employer,” Dale Farrell, director of the school system’s human resources, said.
He added the previous employer has 20 days to respond. “We can’t bring on new staff for that 20-day waiting period,” he said. Farrell said the form has to be sent to every employer where the applicant had regular contact with minors.
The human resources director said they attempt to track down email addresses and fax numbers, but are not always successful. This has led to dozens of candidates’ having to wait weeks or even months to be hired.
“A lot of people don’t know those things especially if they worked there 20, 30 years ago,” he said.
If his department made three attempts to contact a former employer during the 20-day waiting period and has not received a response, a committee will view the application, including their criminal history, and determine whether to hire the person.
Farrell said there have not been any red flags so far, and he assumes anything of concern would show on the applicant’s criminal history.
About a month and a half after the school year began, Farrell said there are 11 full-time candidates still going through the process, 10 extra pay for extra-duty applicants (including sports coaches) and nine substitute teachers. Some of those vacancies are filled by substitutes, but some are not.
“We can’t have a sub work in HVAC,” Farrell said as an example. “Each position kind of presents its own type of challenge.”
Another example he gave is a substitute paraeducator who works with a student with autism. “Maybe that change isn’t good for that student,” he said. “Then that student needs to reacclimate with someone new.”
Mike Wyant, the school system’s director of safety and security, said the background check adjustment was “seamless” for his department. Although all of his new hires weren’t staffed until 2½ weeks ago, his substitutes were able to get the job done.
“It was seamless because we are always anticipating,” he said.
Wyant said contracted temporary employees are always on call, vetted and receive the same training as the full-time safety and security staff.
However, Jake Heibel, principal of Great Mills High School, did not have such a seamless experience. He said the background check process is no one’s fault, but it’s “a little excessive.”
He added it doesn’t help that the new process comes during a time where there is a teacher shortage. Heibel said the difficult process could cause the school system to lose quality teachers.
The principal said Great Mills is fully staffed at the moment. “We are now in good shape,” he said. But they were not fully staffed the first week of school.
“I’m just worried moving forward if we don’t make changes soon,” he said.