New Law Requires More Robust Background Checks for DC Teachers

D.C. public and charter schools are required to perform more robust background checks before hiring new teachers under a new law passed by the D.C. Council.

The law also requires D.C. schools to alert future employers about sex misconduct incidents by former D.C. teachers if those employers call for references about those teachers.

The bill was debated and approved months after a News4 I-Team report revealed a teacher accused of sexually abusing a student in D.C. managed to find a new teaching job in Florida. The I-Team investigation revealed gaps in D.C. law and was cited by supporters of the new legislation.

The School Safety Act of 2018 passed by unanimous vote at the D.C. Council in late December and takes effect next school year.

Council member David Grosso, who sponsored the legislation, told the I-Team, “We want adults to know that if they do something, they’re going to get caught. We’re going to know about it and we’re going to report them to authorities.”

The law requires job applicants provide 20 years of employment history information when applying for jobs at D.C. schools. It also requires D.C. school officials to search a national database of teacher license revocations before hiring a new teacher. The database includes the names of approximately 80,000 teachers from whom licenses have been revoked for misconduct, according to a News4 I-Team review.

“We want them to call references and ask specific questions,” Grosso said. “Was this person asked to leave? And why?”

The law also requires D.C. schools to provide information about sex misconduct by a former D.C. teacher “when contacted by another local education or school that is considering hiring the applicant.”

A News4 I-Team report in 2017 revealed the D.C. Attorney General investigated staff at a D.C. charter school accused of failing to notify the Gainesville, Florida, school system about former D.C. charter teacher Alan Coleman. Coleman was fired by the charter school after allegations he’d committed sex misconduct against a student at a prior school. The Gainesville school system told the I-Team it received a positive job reference about Coleman when it inquired with the D.C. charter school. The AG told the I-Team it eventually declined to file any criminal charges against employees at the D.C. charter school.

Bill supporters said the I-Team report revealed a weakness in D.C. law.

“Sometimes parents and students have to make their voices heard,” Grosso said. “The press plays a very important role there.”

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