Communities in California were stunned earlier this school year when a charter school employee was arrested for allegedly luring an 8-year-old student to a secluded area at the school and molesting her.

Jonathan Chow, an 18 year-old lunchtime aide employed by the school, has been charged with five felonies, including sexual penetration of a child under the age of 10, possessing more than 600 images of child pornography, inducing a minor’s involvement in child pornography and two counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a child by force, violence, duress or fear, according to a report by Bay Area News Group.

The school was for forced to close for a week after the school could not prove that all of its employees had passed required background checks. It wasn’t immediately clear why the school opened without having completed those checks, required by its charter and also by the state. The school has since re-opened.

What are Charter School requirements?

This case got us thinking – what standards are charter schools required to meet when it comes to screening employees, volunteers and coaches? If you’re not familiar with charter schools here’s how they’re described: publicly funded schools run by private, independent organizations.

Screening for charter schools varies from state to state with some states having specific laws for teachers or anyone in regular contact with minors; Pennsylvania is the most obvious example of this. For the most part, though, a good rule of thumb is if they are licensed by the state or receive state/federal funding they will have a “licensing” process for their teachers that includes the FBI background check. An FBI background check, however, is basically a fingerprint check and doesn’t encompass all of the necessary information needed to make a smart hiring decision when it comes to people working with our children.

If charter schools are 100% independent they are usually free to set their own screening policies; Homeschool co-ops are a good example of this. Pretty much all schools, including public school districts, are free to set their own policies when it comes to screening volunteers.

The Indiana Charter School Board has a pretty clear cut screening policy available on its website that pertains to both employees, volunteers and anyone who comes in contact with kids.

Louisiana also spells out who is required to undergo charter school background checks:

  • Teachers and substitute teachers
  • Bus drivers and substitute bus drivers
  • Janitors
  • Other school employees who might reasonably be expected to be placed in a position of supervisory or disciplinary authority over school children

It’s interesting to note that although both of these states, and likely many others, have a written screening policy that charter schools must adhere to, neither of them specifically addresses coaches or volunteer coaches.

How do Charter Schools’ Policies Compare to Public and Private Schools?

Compared to public schools, charter schools are fairly unregulated when it comes to screening employees. Most charter schools conduct fingerprinting on their employees just because that is what they know and what they are comfortable doing. Charter schools typically also don’t do very many checks because the staff usually doesn’t turn over very much, and unless you are at a huge school you won’t have more than a few dozen teachers/faculty members.

Charter schools have had issues with failed background checks. South Florida had a series of short-lived charters that got approval despite criminal records or financial problems in their founders’ backgrounds.

So what is the real safeguard when it comes to protecting your kids in charter schools? YOU have to ask questions about the background check requirements of employees, volunteers and coaches. If you’re not satisfied, steer them to a nationally-accredited background screening company who specializes in youth activities and organizations like Protect Youth Sports.