January 14, 2012 Updated: July 3, 2013 at 9:34 am
Sexual predators allegedly worked their way onto coaching staffs at Penn State and Syracuse, but area schools have systems in place to try to prevent it from happening at their campuses.
School districts in the Pikes Peak region go a long way to make sure teachers, coaches and volunteers who are going to be around students for any duration or in one-on-one situations don’t have any questions in their past.
The schools and districts might go about it differently, but they have background checks done nonetheless.
“We run the same background check on anybody that’s going to be alone with kids,” District 11 athletic director David Eichman said. “If a volunteer coach is going to be alone with kids, he’d have to do the same background check as an employee.”
The method of background checks varies. A coach who also will be a teacher in District 11 gets a background check through the human resources department, while coaches, assistant coaches and volunteers who are not teachers are sent to fill out paperwork and have their background checks done with the district’s security offices, public information officer Devra Ashby said.
District 20’s prospective coaches are sent to the Colorado Springs Police Department for fingerprinting.
When a background check at those districts is done, the applicant is fingerprinted and has information such as driver’s license and Social Security number run through different databases, which include the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The CBI cannot check an individual’s national record, only the record within the state, and a national check can only be done by the FBI, said Lance Clem, public information officer for the CBI.
From July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, District 20 did 5,900 background checks. Of those, 264 failed for something in their history and subsequently were not hired, District 20 PIO Nanette Anderson said.
District 49 runs an initial background check through the CBI. Assuming that comes back clean, the applicant is sent to get fingerprinted at a police station and the fingerprint cards are sent to the FBI for a national check.
Private schools don’t fall under public school regulations, leaving them to follow their own direction. Neither St. Mary’s nor Colorado Springs Christian School use fingerprints or the CBI or FBI for background checks.
St. Mary’s uses ADP – a service the paycheck distribution company offers – via applicants’ Social Security numbers and dates of birth. CSCS does the same thing but goes through Secure Search, out of Castle Rock.
CSCS recently updated its policy for background checks. Heading into the 2010-11 school year, CSCS mandated that all volunteers go through the same check as coaches.
“We’ve made the whole volunteer process more consistent,” said Erin Wilcox, associate superintendent of instruction. “It’s much more thorough having them all fill out the application.”
While St. Mary’s uses ADP for new applicants, a teacher, coach or volunteer who already works for the diocese doesn’t go through a background check because they’ve already undergone one, St. Mary’s athletic director Ed Latimer said.
“All of our staff, whether they be custodian, bus driver, teacher, whatever, everybody of course has that background check,” St. Mary’s principal Mike Biondini said.
Who pays for it?
Everyone in District 49 pays their own fingerprinting costs, PIO Stephanie Meredith said.
That’s not the case throughout the region.
Private schools pay for all their applicants, leaving for an expensive tab.
“We have to pay it ourselves,” Wilcox said. “It’s a huge commitment to do that for our volunteers, but we do think it’s important.”
In District 2, prospective teachers and paid coaches have to pay half of their background checks (about $30) with the district paying the other half, district PIO Jennifer Sprague said. However, volunteers have their checks paid by the district.
Sprague estimated the district spends $4,000 annually for background checks but the number fluctuates.
Not exactly part of the team
Parents or unofficial assistants who hang around the team are not forced to have background checks. But those aides also aren’t supposed to be left alone with any players, a sentiment shared by all districts.
“If they’re there in some unofficial capacity, if (they’re) hanging around the team but are never working one-on-one with children without a district employee, that’s the difference,” said D20’s Anderson. “What we promise parents is that students are always supervised by an employee that has (passed) a background check.”
It mostly falls to coaches to be sure student-athletes are attended to only by those who’ve passed inspection.
“I haven’t found it to be a problem,” Liberty football coach Jaron Cohen said. “If anything, you want to err on the side of caution in light of all the horrible things that have happened.
“We have open practice, but (parents) are not doing any coaching. If you want to come watch practice, that’s your prerogative. But our coaches are our coaches.”
Cohen has seen firsthand how a background check can work. A background check on Cohen’s choice of an assistant turned up a driving-under-the-influence conviction.
“We couldn’t hire him,” Cohen said.
The problem: background checks can’t predict future behavior.
“The thing with all of it is ... if it’s a first-time offense then a background check is not going to show anything,” said Eichman, D11 athletic director. “That’s what makes it challenging for us. I’m confident we do everything we can do with the resources we have. It’s impossible to know what’s in people’s minds.”
A small sampling
When Cohen applied to be Liberty's coach more than four years ago, he found out how thorough District 20 could be in its background checks.
At the time, Cohen lived in Connecticut. He let his athletic director in Connecticut know he was considering moving, but few others. Then he got a phone call.
“An opposing coach says, ‘Hey, what, are you moving?” Cohen recalled.
Former Liberty athletic director Jim Chapman had called a pair of rival coaches to check on Cohen.
“Both coaches called me up,” Cohen said. “They do thorough (checks) at Liberty.”