State Board of Education Supports Requiring School Districts to Screen Substitute Teachers

November 11, 2009

CHARLESTON, SC – November 10, 2009 –  South Carolina’s State Board of Education today supported changing state law to require school districts to do state criminal background checks on substitute teachers.

 Current law requires background checks on full-time certified teachers but not on substitutes.  In a unanimous vote, the State Board voiced its support for legislative action that would require substitutes to be screened by the State Law Enforcement Division.

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said that based on informal surveys conducted by his agency, most school districts are already doing SLED background checks on substitute teachers.  Some pay for the checks out of district funds, while others require prospective subs to pay as a condition of employment.”

“Essentially, the State Board wants the General Assembly to make a strong statement and make these background checks a requirement,” Rex said.  “You can’t put too much emphasis on student safety.”

Today’s State Board resolution proposed that SLED charge school districts no more than the amount it charges charitable organizations for criminal background checks.  Currently, that’s $8.

The Board also recommended that the Education Department provide training designed to help local school district personnel better understand the items found in SLED reports so that this information could be used more effectively when hiring substitutes.

“We hope this sends a strong signal to school districts concerning the importance of establishing and enforcing tight screening criteria for substitute teachers,” said State Board Chair Tim Moore.

State Board member Cindy Clark was a key supporter of the resolution.  “These changes in state law would help ensure the safety of our students, which is an important goal of the Board,” Clark said.

Tightening the vetting process for substitute teachers is part of Rex’s ongoing effort to create a heightened culture of safety and security in South Carolina schools.  Over the past two years, he has forged a partnership with Darkness to Light, a Charleston-based nonprofit organization that by years’ end will train 20,000 South Carolina teachers and school employees in child abuse prevention.  That’s more than 40 percent of the state’s 54,000 professional school staff and sets a national record among American school systems, according to Darkness to Light.

By the end of 2010, Rex anticipates that more than 38,000 education staff will complete the training – about 75 percent of the state’s professional school workforce.