Excerpted from a Lexington Herald-Leader story by Valerie Honeycutt Spears
A new background check law that caused headaches for Kentucky school districts and businesses and an apparent additional 40,000 inquiries to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services might be getting a revision.
Prior to the law that went into effect July 2018, criminal background checks proving that a child abuse and neglect background check has been completed were required for all school district employees and school volunteers.
But that changed under a law that went into effect last year.
Now, a letter is required for public school personnel, student teachers, parents on school-based decision-making councils and contractors.
And in some cases, school officials have been interpreting the 2018 law to mean that an employee such as a pest control contractor working in a school building had to get a letter. In another case, a request for a letter was initially made of workers filling beverage machines at schools.
Thousands of requests that had not previously been made poured into the Cabinet, spokesman Doug Hogan has said. The agency had to hire staff to meet the demand.
For example, in calendar year 2017, 25,689 child abuse and neglect checks were processed. In calendar year 2018, 69,293 checks were processed with more than 43,000 of those processed between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2018, Hogan said this week.
Five temporary employees, 11 full-time volunteers, and five part-time volunteers helped process the surge of requests submitted during the last half of the year.
The temporary staffing costs were just under $86,000, Cabinet officials estimate, adding they are currently processing background checks within 30 days. Hogan has said that before the current law, the processing took one week. The agency is working to reduce the processing time, he added.
State Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, who sponsored the law that went into effect in July 2018, has filed legislation in the 2019 General Assembly that could fix some of the unintended problems.
The most recent version of Senate Bill 15 clarifies that contractors with direct contact with students in school programs and activities on school grounds would be required to have child abuse or neglect background checks.
Adams said she introduced the legislation because school contractors for services such as snow removal or roof repair were “finding it difficult to take care of routine operations.”
The current draft requires a criminal and child abuse and neglect background check of any adult on school grounds on a regular basis who provides services to students in school activities. It also requires such checks of staff who are newly hired, non-faculty coaches and assistants, student teachers, and parents on school-based decision-making councils.
The Cabinet is still reviewing Adams’ 2019 bill, but Eric Kennedy, director of governmental relations for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said his group strongly supports the proposed legislation.
“We think when this passes the folks that are around kids enough to need to be checked, will be,” he said.
At the same time, he said the backlog will be reduced by eliminating checks for contractors who aren’t directly around school children. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said his group favors the bill also.
Meanwhile, Cabinet staff are looking at technological solutions to better address the demands for background checks.