Who’s in our schools?

WICHITA, Kansas – More than a decade has gone by since Kansas passed a law requiring public school districts to perform background checks on teachers. Although the law passed in 2002, in 2014, support staff do not legally have to undergo background checks. Support staff includes librarians, custodians, and secretaries.

KSN reached out to Wichita parents.

“I think that’s crazy,” said Haley Busch, a parent. “I think anybody that has contact with kids should have to have a background check.”

“They’re still in the same building. They still have the same interactions with the kids,” said Daniel Rogers, a Wichita father. “It all comes down to the safety of them and who’s around them.”

USD 259 exceeds Kansas state law’s minimum requirements by background checking all staff, the district only conducts background checks once, when employees are first hired. This came as a surprise to parents as well.

“It’s probably something that should be done every year because people do things throughout their life,” said mother, Michelle Grundeman.

KSN confronted the executive director of the safety services department for Wichita Public Schools, Terri Moses. We asked her if she believes one background check is enough.

“I think that as the world changes, and we have situations where people, like travel and do those kind of things, we’re constantly looking at ways we can update the safety of our schools,” said Moses.

When it comes to background checks, however, cost is a factor.

“It’s laid out in the district budget, it goes before the board, and in all honesty, both the administration and board feel very strongly that we have to protect our kids,” said Charles Wakefield, the director of recruitment, staffing, and talent management for Wichita Public Schools’ Human Resources department.

Currently, Wichita Public Schools pays $20 per background check.

Parents believe cost should not be an issue.

“We drop our kids off here every day to learn and be in a safe environment, and the cost should never be an issue,” said Rogers.

Kelly Spangler, a mother, told KSN it is a matter of trust. “I don’t think money is an issue,” said Spangler.

KSN also asked Wichita Public Schools if the district went back to background check teachers hired before the 2002 law went into effect, because certain teachers were not under the legal mandate. Wichita Public Schools could not confirm that was the case 100 percent.

Kansas State Senator Greg Smith, a Republican, is sponsoring SB335. Senator Smith explained the bill.

“It asks that every time a teacher has to get their license renewed, which is every five years, or just a five-year period for someone that’s not a teacher that they would be background checked again to make sure that nothing has come up in those five years,” said Sen. Smith.

Kansas Legislature background checks bill:
Senate Bill No. 335 (As Amended by Senate Committee of the Whole)
Supplemental note on Senate Bill No. 335
Link to Senate Bill No. 335 history and versions (Concerning background checks)

The fate of the bill however, has not yet been decided.

Until it has been decided, for Wichita Public Schools at least, reporting arrests of any nature, will be held to the district’s “honor system” policy.

“By board policy, it’s incumbent upon them to inform us of an arrest or conviction,” said Wakefield.

KSN retrieved the public arrest record for Jarrod Alan Acquistapace, a 31-year-old former substitute teacher for USD 259. The substitute teacher was arrested in September 2013 on suspicion of child sex crimes involving a 15-year-old girl.

Supplemental Documents:
USD 259 Response letter KSN (linked to email)
USD 259 Individual Assignment Report for Jarrod Acquistapace (linked to email)
Financial affidavit

Acquistapace remained in Wichita Public Schools’ district substitute teacher database for nearly two weeks following his arrest. Although Acquistapace was not hired to teach during that time, KSN wanted to know how often he was in the classroom since he was hired in 2011. KSN filed a Kansas Open Records Act to obtain the information.

Records show that during the 2011-2012 school year, Acquistapace took 40 substitute teaching jobs. During the 2012-2013 school year, he took 59 jobs with the district.

In addition, Acquistapace failed to list Wichita Public Schools as a place of work on official court documents.

KSN wants to know if there is a more proactive policy.

We asked Wichita Public Schools if they are doing enough to protect our kids.

“I think we always have to improve. I think that if we ever thought that we were doing enough, we would be failing,” said Moses. “I think we constantly have to look at ways to improve, whether it’s background checks, access control to buildings, cameras, anything. I think we have to constantly improve.”

Related links:
Background Checks: A comparison of selected Kansas schools
USD 259 BOE Policy 4094: Arrest of an Employee
USD 259 BOE List of Policies

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