Duluth School Board discusses changes to background policy
The Duluth School Board requested changes to a proposed new background-check policy during a Tuesday committee meeting.
Currently, new employees of the Duluth school district can begin working before their full background check has been completed. Some School Board members expressed concerns Tuesday during a human resource committee meeting.
"As a parent and a School Board member I don't think that's a responsible practice whether or not state statute allows it or not," board member Sally Trnka said. "I think it leaves us vulnerable. I think because we are under some scrutiny right now around background checks, and understandably so, I think we need to be really thoughtful about that language. I recognize that it may make things more difficult and lead to lengthened hiring times."
Linda Kinnear, human resource manager for non-certified staff, said it happens quite frequently that someone begins working before their full background check is completed, especially in the paraprofessional area.
Though, both Kinnear and senior human resource manager Tom Sworsky said their department does do a quick criminal background check by checking Wisconsin and Minnesota court records as well as calling former employers listed on applications.
The proposed policy states "the school district may conditionally hire an applicant or allow an individual to provide services pending completion of the background check, but shall notify the individual that the individual's employment or opportunity to provide services may be terminated based on the result of the background check." Board member Nora Sandstad said she wants to see this provision eliminated from the policy. Board member Josh Gorham agreed.
"I'm thinking on the side of caution here and from the perspective of a parent. If my child were ever put in a vulnerable position, the reputation of this district would be irreparable," Gorham said. "We just can't put our kids in that position. Kid safety should be first."
While Superintendent Bill Gronseth said he is leaning toward the elimination of conditional hire, he understands the effect it could have on the hiring process.
"During my time here, I know of at least one time where a background check came back not OK and we needed to terminate that individual and it had been two weeks. What if something had happened in those two weeks?" Gronseth said. "I'm leaning toward saying that we really shouldn't have people working with children until we know ... even though it may be frustrating for folks who are in the 'I need somebody now' frame of mind."
Not everyone agreed with the removal of conditional hires. Board member Jill Lofald said as long as the quick criminal background check is completed and comes back clean, she doesn't understand why a person can't begin immediately. The quick background check is currently not listed as a requirement for the conditional hire in the proposed policy.
"If we tighten up this policy I'm afraid we will have an even harder time filling positions that we need," Lofald said. "I understand the parent role of being sure kids are going to be monitored by people who have the best of our children's interest at heart, but what worse would it be to have no one in the position because we are waiting for two weeks and something happens to the student because we don't have a person in place where we need them."
Trnka responded by saying that it is common practice for many companies and organizations to not allow someone to begin working until their background check has come back.
"I don't think this is a worst-case scenario approach to this policy, I think it's actually a best case for our kids scenario," Trnka said.
The School Board will be presented with an updated policy with changes for a second reading approval during its regular meeting April 23.