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Substitute teacher background check legislation prompts changes at district level

Jul 08, 2011 Matt Roesly

Substitute teacher background check legislation prompts changes at district level
The Illinois districts of Champaign and Urbana recently tightened background screening procedures for substitute teachers in response to authorization changes at the state level, the News-Gazette reports.
 As of January 2011, the state requires substitutes to undergo a fingerprint-based background investigation and certification procedures via Regional Offices of Education, as opposed to school districts. In a bid to attract candidates who are serious about accepting a position, they must now pay the $60 background check fee themselves rather than have it funded by the state. As a result of the new measures, districts will see whether candidates passed, but not the specific results of the check. According to Beth Shepperd, assistant superintendent for human resources in Champaign, this will prevent districts from reacting to information that would not disqualify a person from a substitute position but may influence the decision of whether he or she should be hired, the newspaper reports. In response to the changes, Champaign has elected to begin holding recruitment fairs at which substitute teacher candidates will undergo interviews. "We think adding this layer where we conduct interviews and determine whether applicants are a fit for our district will give us a stronger pool," explained Shepperd, quoted by the news source. "We want to actually interview (candidates) so we can have a better handle on the quality of instruction in our classes." According to Shepperd, the Champaign school district currently has a list of approximately 183 substitutes and is looking to find 35 more from recruitment fairs. She hopes that the fairs and charging candidates for their own background checks will attract more serious prospective substitutes. Last year, the district found that approximately 140 people who passed the background screening did not accept a position. "We were trying to figure out why we had an influx of people signing up," Shepperd told the news source. "My assumption is that signing up on our website fulfilled a requirement for receiving unemployment, (but) we want people who really want to do the work." The neighboring district of Urbana plans to build on the increase in reference checks that it implemented in 2010 by adopting interview-based measures similar to Champaign's, Urbana assistant superintendent of human resources Gayle Jeffries told the news source. Urbana has approximately 150 substitutes on its list, and hopes to recruit 50 more.