All felony convictions requested in Manchester school background checks
MANCHESTER — Superintendent Debra Livingston says it is the district's policy to request all criminal information available as part of the state-mandated background check for prospective school employees.
The state's system for vetting school employees is facing scrutiny after the revelation that a Claremont teacher arrested for sexual conduct with a student last month had a prior felony conviction. Claremont administrators were unaware last year when they hired the teacher, Christopher LeBlanc, that he had pleaded guilty in 2006 to one count of conspiracy to transmit stolen goods.
The news exposed potential holes in the state's system for vetting the criminal backgrounds of teachers and other school employees. The state police, which conduct the checks for school districts, are only required to inform administrators of a narrow set of crimes: murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, child pornography and child abuse. If a district wants to be informed of all felonies on an applicant's record, it must notify the state police in writing.
The Claremont superintendent said he was unaware that it was possible to request more comprehensive criminal record information.
Even with the maximum amount of information from the state police, the statute leaves districts without full knowledge of the potential criminal background of a school employee. Unlike many other states, the New Hampshire background check law bars police from informing districts of misdemeanors and other lesser infractions.
Most school districts request to be informed of any felonies, not just those involving crimes against children, sexual assault and murder.
Livingston, the superintendent of the state's largest school district, said all reportable crimes are requested in the records check.
"We request all felonies through the state police. This has been the policy we follow," she said, adding, "We go by the RSA, and also on our application a possible employee is asked about any records. If an employee checks a box that there isn't anything and it comes back there is, they're dismissed immediately."
Livingston said the district's human resources director wasn't aware of a single case in which the records check came back with any crimes.
Several school employees have been arrested in recent years in Manchester. Last month, an art teacher was indicted for allegedly allowing her home to be used by her boyfriend to sell drugs. In 2012, a special education teacher was indicted on charges of abusing students on three occasions. In 2011, a paraprofessional at Hillside Middle School was charged with felonious sexual assault stemming from sexual encounters with a student.
No prior criminal records came to light in these cases.
The district does not have a policy on background checks for all school employees that is part of the policy book reviewed by the school board. It does, however, have a section dealing solely with volunteers. The section, approved by the school board last year, requires all those deemed "designated volunteers" — who "may serve on an on-going basis and have one-to-one contact with students" — to submit to a criminal background check and fingerprinting.