D.C. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At large) (Courtesy of Henderson’s office)
D.C. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At large) (Courtesy of Henderson’s office)

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As the 2022-2023 school year gets underway, teachers and volunteers continue to navigate the background check process that, once they complete, will allow them to engage District public school students. 

Three aspirant volunteers with Community Engagement Project (CEP) count among those who’ve submitted fingerprints, social security numbers and other identifiers. 

While CEP Executive Director Lauren Grimes spoke positively about background checks this year, and doesn’t anticipate hurdles similar to what her volunteers experienced last year, she lamented periodic lapses in communication from DC Public Schools (DCPS) throughout the process.  

“I think the central office is doing a good job,” Grimes said. 

“It’s not always easy to get information back during the clearance process. I don’t know if I’m missing something on my end [because] there’s a breakdown in communication. DCPS central office said they would finish the process but I need confirmation on my end from personnel.” 

Conversations between DCPS, the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Education and DC Child and Family Services Agency (DC CFSA) reportedly found key causes of background check delays to be a sex offender registry check that covered all 50 states and U.S. territories.  

Other causes, according to people familiar with the process, centered on DC CFSA’s dependence on contractor First Advantage to conduct background checks. These circumstances extended what was supposed to be a two to three week proces to upwards of three months, which In essence delayed the dissemination of offer letters. 

Throughout the pandemic, more than 60 organizations affiliated with DC Action’s Out-of-School Time Coalition engaged District leaders in dialogue about these issues. By last December, when the COVID surge forced several schools to shutter, volunteer organizations  complained not only about lengthy background checks, but instances when school administrators didn’t reveal positive COVID cases to volunteers entering schools. 

Upon the D.C. Council’s return from summer recess last week, Council member Christina Henderson (I-At large) introduced the Educator Background Check Streamlining Act. In her comments, she said the legislation would balance the need for efficiency and student safety. 

If approved, the legislation, co-introduced by Council members Robert White (D-At large), Anita Bonds (D-At large) and Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), would reduce the employment history check period from 20 years to seven years, or an applicant’s last three jobs. It also reduces the sex offender registry check to states and U.S. territories where an applicant has lived and worked. 

This bill has a supporter in Chantal Fuller, a Henderson staff member and former special education teacher who experienced trouble with the background check process when she attempted to serve as a substitute teacher toward the end of  the last school year. 

Fuller said her students lost valuable instructional time while she waited at home to receive the results of her background check. By the time she had gotten cleared to teach, she had contacted DCPS, CFSA and First Advantage several times to receive updates. Her students had also already taken the PARCC exam. 

In the final weeks before the start of their summer vacation, Fuller noted several missed opportunities to correct misconceptions students had about subject matter.  

“We should be using the most effective, relevant, and efficient processes to check the records of those who are caring for our children,” Fuller said. 

“There are already processes in place that are doing that and with this bill, they will be able to be streamlined,” she added. 

“Getting qualified and willing adults into our schools is the best way to help our students academically, socially, and emotionally. I’m happy to have helped support this legislation.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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