- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2019


There’s a tendency during back-to-school season to focus on the tangibles.

You know — clothing and uniforms, antibacterial wipes, backpacks, two packs of No. 2 pencils and four packs of Crayola crayons. Off-brand crayons are a no-no.

Much of the stress on you and your wallet, though, is eased as more school systems offer online checklists from pre-K thru high school.

Can we talk about the non-tangibles? Specifically, the school district’s checklist.

Is school safety on yours and theirs? It should be.

First, think one word: predator.

Then consider some meaningful terminology: “Passing the trash” — being prohibited from identifying a known predator who goes from school system to school system, and “Mobile molester” — the predator who freely moves around because school systems fail to conduct criminal background checks on employees.

Now, consider the case of Larry Nassar, the nasty skunk who sexually abused scores of girls as the Olympic gymnastics doctor. Internationally renown, he gained the confidence and trust of the girls and women in his care, their parents, college officials and Olympic authorities for years.

Now this local fact: Nearly one-third of D.C. school employees and contractors have expired or insufficient background checks, or none at all.

God forbid, your child is in daily contact with a Larry Nassar or abusive school employee, not knowing whether he or she has committed a crime in recent years or been arrested but not convicted of a crime in several years.

Suffice it to say, there are many types of predator, which Merriam-Webster defines as “an animal that preys on other animals.”

When the predator and the prey are both human beings, the act is unnatural and unlawful. Our children, who spend up to 10 hours a day in school in before-, regular and after-school programs, are particularly vulnerable.

Kenneth Long was twice arrested in Florida for offering students sex and put on three years’ probation. This offender was hired in Alexandria, but authorities there failed to do a criminal background check. The cunning predator moved onto to kids in D.C., where he was nabbed by the feds and charged with 35 counts of interstate transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. His prey was a 14-year-old student.

Another case involved a teacher’s aide and volunteer in Prince George’s recreation and schools programs. Deonte Carraway, 23, was sentenced in 2017 to 75 years in prison after pleading guilty to child sexual exploitation and child porn charges. His youngest victim was but 9 years old.

D.C. officials said this week that the city is still reviewing its school employees’ and contractors’ records, and they should. This spring, parents and school officials learned that a contractor accused of messing with a 14-year-old girl had not had a background check. He was booted, as was the contracting firm.

Predators are always looking for eyes that look askance, and they know public education settings are among their best friends, overwhelmed by red tape and shuttered, as they always are, from parents, the authorities closest to their prey.

So, it’s time to ask.

Have the faculty and staff at your child’s school undergone criminal background checks? Does your school district conduct criminal background checks? Have you asked?

Here’s food for thought. One of Larry Nassar’s victims, gymnastics phenom Simon Biles, said his bosses had but one job: Protect the athletes. What they did instead was “pass the trash” and allow him to become a “mobile molester.”

Protect your children by asking the tough questions of your school district.

D.C. officials said they hope to have some school employees’ background checks completed by Aug. 26, the day the 2019-20 school year begins.

That’s all well and good, but only if the other two-thirds employed are completed pronto — and if parents and the D.C. Council press the issue.

⦁ Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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