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New Duluth school district policy to require prelim background checks before start date

t07.09.2018 -- Steve Kuchera -- 071018.N.DNT.DebtC2 -- Officials estimate it will cost $25 million to maintain the Historic Old Central High School. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

The Duluth School Board discussed changes to the district's background check policy Tuesday, which would allow new hires to start work after a more expansive preliminary background check.

Currently, the district allows new employees to start after passing a search of Minnesota records but before a full background check comes back, which takes about two weeks.

The new policy would require a search of the Minnesota Public Criminal History website, National Sex Offender Registry and Minnesota Meth Offender Registry and other state databases when appropriate prior to an employee's start date.

Human resource manager Tim Sworsky said the district already does preliminary background checks, but added it to the policy language for peace of mind.

"The preliminary background checks do pull information from the (Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension), but it is usually only convictions," Sworsky said. "So the BCA's (background check) will have everything from arrest records and the process of their arrest records and convictions."

Allowing people to start within the district before their full background check came back gave some School Board members pause after an incident occurred at East High School in April. Since they were not a school employee, that particular person's background check would not have been conducted by the district in the first place.

Sworsky said he was not aware of any district not allowing new employees to start before their full background checks are complete.

"The issue about not being able to start employees before receiving their background checks is we can't give them a firm start date, they can't give an offer of resignation to their current employer and, in some cases, which are very rare, they may require fingerprinting," Sworsky said. "And fingerprinting is not a bad thing, it just means that there are two individuals with similar names or birth dates, but that could require an additional three weeks."

Applicants to the district are required to disclose any conviction of a misdemeanor or higher. When background checks do comeback, Sworsky said district does compare it to the application and if anything shows up that wasn't disclosed on the application the district either has a conversation with the employee and/or terminates their position with the district.

The Duluth School Board is set to vote on the second reading of the background-check policy at 6 p.m. May 21 at the Historic Old Central High School. If approved, the policy would go into effect.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the night general assignments reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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