Should Background Checks be Required for School Board Candidates to Run?
At the latest CARE135 meeting Monday, D135 Interim Superintendent Dennis Soustek described how the school board is pushing for state legislation that makes background checks mandatory for school board candidates.
As of now, no law exists requiring people interested in serving on school boards throughout Illinois to submit for a background check, but Orland School District 135 is looking to change that.
When the Illinois Association of School Boards meets in August, they will receive a resolution drafted by D135’s board pushing for a state law requiring any person looking to run for school board to undergo a background check.
“(Ill. State Rep.) Renee Kosel (R-Mokena), said if it passes there, she’d help write up the legislation,” D135 Interim Superintendent Dennis Soustek said Monday. “Right now no elected official has to go through background checks. Only one other state we came across does so and that’s New Jersey, so we thought maybe we should look into it further.”
Soustek spoke to members of the parent group CARE135, along with board member Mary Bragg and new Interim D135 Superintendent Carol Kunst, during the group’s last meeting of the year. The parent group first formed earlier in the year with the goal of building communication between the board and school district parents, and to clear the air on certain issues.
For example, founding CARE135 member Nabeha Zegar asked if school board members have their own access to any school district building as they please.
“Whenever I go into any building, I sign in and get a visitor tag,” Bragg said.
Soustek and Bragg were also asked whether the district board members were all behind this push for background check legislation, or if any board members were against it.
“Everyone is behind it,” Bragg said.
Soustek pointed out that the board 7-0 in favor of sending the IASB the resolution.
One parent asked whether D135 could simply pass their own policy, rather than push for a statewide measure.
“It’d have to be something (Cook County Clerk) David Orr’s had direction on, since he is in charge of elections,” Soustek said.
Local candidates could voluntarily submit to a background check without a state law, but Soustek said that would raise another set of questions.
“Who knows what the background is of that person? And who gets the report?” Soustek said. “What if there is something in that background of the criminal type? Even with teachers going through the background investigation there are certain things that are excluded and certain things that do make a difference. So when that comes out if someone was arrested for a DUI for example, what do you do with that? Do I publish that? What’s the liability when that goes out and causes that person damage in some other way?”
Soustek that no current D135 board members would be affected by a law requiring background checks.
“Even if there was a law right now, there is no board member currently who would be excluded,” he said.
Later on in the meeting, Kunst spoke briefly about her background before coming to D135, describing time she spent working with the Chicago Police Department in transit, and working in special education later in her career.
“I am well equipped to work with children who have special needs,” she said. “We might wonder why a child can’t get homework in and there’s an assumption that they all go to an idyllic home. Many don’t. Sometimes with children it’s not as we assume it is.”
Editor's Note: Nabeha Zegar is a Patch contributor.
Look for more details from the CARE135 meeting later in the week.
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