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Requiring Iowa background checks for school employees

(Courtesy Iowa Radio News – O. Kay Henderson) – The Iowa House has voted to require Iowa schools to conduct limited background checks on school employees.

If the bill becomes law, school officials would have to check on-line Iowa court records, the state’s sex offender registry as well as state-maintained lists of people who’ve been accused of abusing children or the elderly. Representative Megan Hess, a Republican from Spencer. said some school districts are not conducting any background checks.

“This bill really is about protecting children,” Hess said. “And I think the children of Iowa deserve to be safe, regardless of the setting in which they are placed.”

Some legislators argued the bill should require a nationwide background check for school employees. Representative Mark Smith, a Democrat from Marshalltown, cited the case of Paula Pace, a teacher’s aide in the BCLUW school district who was fired last fall.

“She was terminated after it was determined that she was a party and convicted of what’s considered the worst single murder in Indiana’s history,” Smith said. “…It does not sound like the background checks that you’re requiring…would have caught the crime that she had committed.”

Hess responded: ”Is this bill perfect? Certainly not. But is this certainly a step in the right direction? Yes.”

Representative Frank Wood, a Democrat from Eldridge, is a principal at North Scott High School.

“I think that the majority of the districts now in our state do the background checks,” Wood said, “especially the ones of the borders probably do more because of the fact that they have more clientele and candidates to draw from that are from outside the state and, therefore, do the national checks.”

Hess agreed that most schools are conducting background checks these days.

“I met with my own superintendent on Friday and we discussed a lot of these issues and my own school district is doing a more comprehensive background check on our own school employees because we draw people from a three-state area,” she said, “because up in northwest we bring people from Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota.”

If the bill becomes law, background checks of Iowa records would be required of those who apply for jobs in Iowa school districts, plus every five years a school employee would be re-checked. Existing law requires background checks for school bus drivers. This bill would require Iowa background checks for full-time, part-time and contract employees of Iowa’s public school districts.

The House passed the bill, but made some changes to it that must be approved by the Senate, too, before the legislation goes to Governor Branstad for his review.