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CPS to recheck backgrounds of all its adults who work with children

The CPS logo at the district's headquarters. | Sun-Times file photo.

Chicago Public Schools will redo its background checks this summer for all adults who come in regular contact with students, including teachers, coaches, vendors and regular volunteers, officials announced Friday in further response to a sex abuse scandal.

Though prospective hires submit their fingerprints for a background check, existing employees have not been rechecked until now. That means veteran staffers or vendors may have been hired at CPS under looser requirements — or may have since committed crimes that could prevent them from working with children.

The additional safeguard, conveyed to staff Friday morning, is the latest in a series of changes CPS has announced to tighten its practices following revelations by the Chicago Tribune of problems protecting students from abuse, including lax background checks.

“Creating a safer school district for our students means doing everything possible to ensure our students are surrounded by trustworthy adults,” CEO Janice Jackson said in a news release. “I want parents to have comfort that all of the adults in our schools will safeguard their children.”

About 55,000 background checks need refreshing, at a cost of between $1.5 and $2 million, CPS spokesman Michael Passman said. New prints will need to be taken for about 13,000 staffers, plus 10,000 volunteers and vendors. The rest of the adults have valid prints on file with Accurate Biometrics that will be re-run to include checks added in 2016 for certain arrests that didn’t end in a conviction or for child abuse or neglect with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Passman said.

“We want to make sure as we start the school year that everyone has gone through the same process, which we think is a good one,” he said.

The schools system has paid Accurate Biometrics more than $3 million since 2012.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the union will participate in the effort “to respond to their appalling failures to protect students from child abuse.”

“Student safety and due process are mutually affirming – because workers with due process rights and protections on the job are better empowered to advocate for and protect our students,” he continued.

“CPS has assured us that this new round of background checks is designed explicitly to identify issues related to child safety concerns, and we will be on the alert for any effort to target members outside of the scope of this review.”

Passman said checks for privately managed charter school employees will conclude before kids go back to class in the fall.

CPS already announced plans to periodically recheck the prints of existing employees and to have vendors who go into schools undergo not just a state-mandated background check but also CPS’ process. Officials have also agreed to hire a former federal prosecutor to analyze its policies, to give the schools inspector general power to investigate all new allegations of abuse against students and to review all prior cases back to at least 2000.