All school districts have a serious responsibility to protect the most vulnerable of our population – our children.

The best way to do this is to do thorough background checks on every person they hire.

If red flags arise during those checks, more checking is needed, or do not hire that person.

In February, a Victoria coach and special education teacher was arrested after he was charged with sexual assault of a student and improper teacher-student relationship. The alleged incident happened while they were on a school trip.

School officials admit they did not check all of his references, noting they checked the education-related references. They claimed they do not have enough time and staffing to check all the references of each potential employee.

When it comes to the safety of the students and protecting them from potential predatory behavior, there is always time to make complete background checks.

We do not believe the lack of staffing is the problem. The district has plenty of staff – including assistant principals and counselors – to help make background calls.

In this case, if all references had been checked, red flags would have been flying and the district would have learned the coach had lost his peace officer’s license and jailer license. The action came after he was terminated and dishonorably discharged for untruthfulness or insubordination from Mathis and Orange Grove police departments.

The staff would have also learned he lied on his VISD job application as well.

Students at all grade levels must be protected because they are vulnerable. They are taught to trust teachers and coaches. They should not be faced with such predatory situations because adults with those characteristics should never be allowed to be near children.

We believe the school district does care about the safety of its students, but it must be more diligent in vetting potential employees.

This summer, the district needs to hire 327 new employees from custodial workers to teachers and administrators. The process of interviews and vetting can be long and arduous, but it is crucial.

The state allows school districts much discretion in the hiring process for educators if they follow Chapter 21 of the education code, which includes background check and credential vetting requirements, according to the Texas Education Agency.

With sexual abuse on the rise in America, school districts cannot be too careful in the hiring process. In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned a study that showed 4.5 million, or 10%, of U.S. students in kindergarten through12th grade were subject to sexual misconduct by an educator. The most prevalent of those who violated students were found to be teachers and coaches.

Locally, 500 children have reported being abused from September to February, an increase of 42% over the same period last year, according to information from the Hope Child Advocacy Center.

While that increase is alarming, even more disturbing is the number of children who may have been sexually abused and have not reported it.

“We have 500 kids that have come and told, but to me that tells me that in this area, statistically, there are 4,500 kids that have been sexually abused and haven’t told someone,” said Ric Tinney, the center’s executive director. “We need to be concerned about the kids we are seeing, but we also need to be concerned about the kids who haven’t told someone.”

Vetting potential perpetrators in roles where they have access to and the trust of children is incredibly important in preventing more children from suffering.

VISD and all districts must step up to the plate and do more to protect their students.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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