By Tom Ahearn
According to a report in the Myrtle Beach (SC) Herald, the father of a former Middle School student in Horry County, South Carolina has filed a lawsuit against the school district that hired a teacher who had a sexual relationship with the man’s daughter, who was only 13-years-old at the time. The Herald reports that the lawsuit filed in civil court – which does not identity the girl or her father – states “the school district was negligent in both the supervision of its students and the screening of prospective hires,” and that the teacher also had sex with a student in Michigan before being hired by Horry County Schools.
The Herald reports that the attorney for the family said that information about the teacher’s past could have easily been obtained by the school district by calling the former high school in Michigan. The Herald also reported that the former social studies teacher had pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor younger than 16 in 2010 and was sentenced to seven years in prison for the illegal relationship.
A Horry County Schools spokeswoman told the Herald that the district’s background check process varies depending on the applicant since in-state or newly certified teachers have “already gone through a background check as part of their certification.” She said all out-of-state hires undergo a background check through the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) records check but that the search only turns up in-state offenses.
A school security consultant interviewed by the Herald said a more thorough background check would include not just a criminal history check of prior crimes but also reference checks that may trigger further investigation. He also indicated that school districts usually do the minimum background check required under state laws due to budgetary and staffing restraints that limit the resources necessary for more comprehensive checks.
The Herald story raises important questions about the hiring practices of schools and shows why school districts need to do more detailed background checks. It also serves as an example of how trying to save time and money with less-than-adequate background checks now can cost a great deal more money later if a school, business, or organization becomes involved with a negligent hiring lawsuit.