Criminal checks for school staff raises questions

An announcement Monday by Education minister Janet Ecker dictating that all teachers and school staff will have to undergo criminal background checks starting this September has raised questions with district school boards.
While both the Rainy River District School Board and the Northwest Catholic District School Board have been doing background checks on all new teachers and staff for several years, Ecker’s initiative will see all board employees undergo the process.
“What we’ll be doing is waiting for the government to give direction,” said Carol-Lynne Oldale, education director with the local Catholic school board.
“They want people to undergo the background checks but what happens if they do someone that has problems?” she wondered.
“How long do you regard information on the record before it’s considered clear? What happens if you find something on an employee of 20 years?”
“Staff that have been around a long time–we haven’t done checks on them. We’ll have to wait to see what to do there,” echoed Warren Hoshizaki, Oldale’s counterpart with the public board here.
“But these background checks are not unusual in businesses where employees deal with children. And if there’s anything to make it safe for the kids, we’ll do it,” he added.
Another consideration is cost. “The question is, ‘Who’s going to pay?’” asked Oldale. “They say it’s up to the employee but the unions aren’t happy with that.”
“Maybe the government should help out with that,” suggested Hoshizaki. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
The cost of the checks are expected to range between $25-$45.
The initiative will form the basis of a new regulation under the Safe Schools Act, alongside such other mandatory policies as dress code. Ecker explained her rationale in her statement Monday.
“We recognize the vast majority of teachers and school staff have earned and deserve the respect of their students,” she said.
“However, mandatory criminal checks will provide school boards with an additional tool to assist them in creating more secure learning environments,” Ecker remarked.
About 200,000 people are employed in schools across the province and would have to submit to the checks.