Excerpted from a KATU-2 TV story by Joe Douglass
At public schools, teachers and other staff members must undergo criminal background checks.
But that’s not the case for private schools and academies in Oregon.
After a piano teacher was arrested for alleged sex abuse, KATU-2 TV looked into what can be done to help keep children safe at private facilities.
Communication is critical according to a leading national expert on child sex abuse and background checks. He said parents should ask about the requirements at a private school, academy or even private youth sports league, which are generally not required to have staff undergo criminal background checks.
Sherwood, Oregon police said 29-year-old Christopher M. Griffin faces charges of sodomy and sex abuse. He was arrested last week and got out of jail after posting $250,000 bail.
Officers said Griffin is a staff member at the Let’s Make Music and Dance Academy. They said he had several encounters with the alleged victim while teaching piano lessons at the business.
Griffin’s mother, the director of the academy, says in a statement on its website that he’s innocent and will be exonerated in court.
“The safety of your children always has been and will be our first priority,” the statement says. “Just to make everyone comfortable, Christopher will not be working here while the charges are pending.”
“Parents need to be vigilant about what their kids are doing,” said Gil Fried, a professor of sport management at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.
Fried has studied child sex abuse and background checks in youth sports for 25 years. He said even when staff members don’t have a criminal record, parents need to stay aware of what’s happening.
“They should talk to their kids about inappropriate conduct, inappropriate text messages, anything the child might be getting from a person at the school,” Fried said. “There needs to be a trust between the parents and the kids to share information with them. Parents also need to talk with one another to make sure they know what’s going on.”
Fried also discussed what parents should do before sending their children to a private school or facility.
“Parents should make sure a private school has gone through the process of doing a complete background check of any new hire and that background check should include fingerprints as a way to verify who that individual is and then the school should on a yearly basis conduct an additional background check just to verify that the status of any given employee has not changed over the course of the year,” he explained.
Fried said the background check should include all 50 states and the federal government.
Meanwhile, a Sherwood police spokesman said Griffin, the son of a Sherwood city councilor, has no previous criminal record.
Oregon’s Department of Education said the Let’s Make Music and Dance Academy is considered a business not a school, though its staff members are still not required by law to undergo a criminal background check.