Four questions: Can background checks prevent teacher misconduct?

A Catholic high school in Austin, Minn., fired one of its math teachers after she was arrested Monday on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

Austin police chief Brian Krueger said the teacher, a 28-year old woman, will be formally charged with third-degree sexual assault on Wednesday. Officials at Pacelli High School said they're cooperating with police in an investigation.

Today, a former Minneapolis teacher pleaded guilty to stalking a 17-year-old student in his South High School class.

Dan Anderson, 46, admitted he repeatedly sent the student texts, some sexually explicit, and pressured her for sex. Prosecutors plan to ask for five years probation and up to 90 days in jail for Anderson.

Anderson will also undergo a psychosexual evaluation, enroll in a sex offender treatment program and register as a sex offender.

Those incidents follow two others in the last week involving coaches in the Twin Cities who were arrested for sexual misconduct with students.

Oct. 6: Mendota Heights tennis coach accused of having sex with student

The string of incidents raises the questions about background checks for those working with students in Minnesota schools, and whether the checks can prevent problems.

Are background checks for coaches and teachers required?

Yes. State law requires Minnesota schools, whether they're public or private, to perform a background check on teachers and coaches before they're hired. The schools can pay the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to do the check or they can hire a private agency.

Anyone who's applying to get a Minnesota teaching license also faces a background check. Some teacher preparation programs, like the one at the University of Minnesota, require teaching candidates to go through background checks to be a part of its licensure program.

What are these background looking for in someone's past?

It varies. If a school hires the BCA to do a check, it will turn up adult and juvenile arrests in Minnesota. The Minnesota Board of Teaching goes one step further and checks FBI records as well, so if someone has been arrested in another state, that will come up.

Many school districts are going beyond the BCA check and hiring private firms to not only check state and federal criminal histories, but also dig deeper into a new hire's background to see if there are any red flags that pop up, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association. These red flags could be behavior on social media, or perhaps an incident that just didn't feel right to someone who worked with them but perhaps didn't rise to the level of an arrest.

Can these background checks prevent the type of incidents we've seen recently between teachers or coaches and students?

That's up for debate. Take, for instance, the two coaches arrested recently — the schools they work for say they did do a background check before hiring them.

These are two young men who don't have educator licenses, who apparently didn't have any criminal history. So a background check, in these cases, is going to come back clean.

It's not likely that a background check would even give an indication that a teacher or a coach might have some sort of inappropriate relationship with a student.

Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said this is a real challenge for schools. If a coach or a teacher hasn't been caught doing something wrong in the past, there will be no red flags that pop up during the background check.

"If there is nothing in the background, if there has been no negative behavior, the background check will come back clean," Amoroso said.

If background checks don't help prevent these sorts of things, what can schools do?

Amoroso said staff should go beyond background checks, calling former employers, talking to people in their past. Schools also need to educate staff, students and parents to spot anything they may think is inappropriate.

Schools in Minnesota do a good job of training employees on what's appropriate behavior between students, teachers and coaches already, Amoroso said.

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