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updated: 2/20/2012 5:46 PM

Naperville parent calls for tougher background checks on school employees

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Naperville Unit District 203 officials say they strictly follow the Illinois School Code as it relates to criminal history checks of all employees hired since 2004.

But at least one mom insists they should be doing more.

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Elizabeth Baumgart, the parent of an elementary and high school student, says she has been pressing the district to enact more safety measures since an after-school incident on Dec. 22 in which a custodian at Beebe Elementary School, Kenneth Brown, is accused of exposing himself and making contact with a female staff member. No students were present at the time.

Brown, an 11-year employee with a felony theft previously on his record, began working for the district before 2004, when the law was amended to require felony background checks of public school job applicants.

District spokeswoman Susan Rice said employees who were hired before 2004 were subject to only a name-based criminal background check.

Rice said the district adheres to the updated code, which now requires it to perform a fingerprint-based criminal history records check to determine if job applicants have been convicted of any criminal or drug offenses or felonies within the past seven years. The school district is also obligated to perform a check of the Statewide Child Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Database for each applicant.

Rice said the district was, prior to the Dec. 22 incident, looking at the loopholes in the law that did not require "grandfathered" employees to be fingerprinted.

"We also had a concern that you only have to be fingerprinted once. So they're already looking at what legally can be done to do an ongoing background check of employees," Rice said. "That's been in the process of being vetted through the lawyers and other systems. That's where we are with that."

Baumgart, however, said the process is moving too slow for her liking and has suggested the district move forward with a plan used in other districts across the country that requires a random 10 percent of staff members to be fingerprinted and checked every year.

"What confidence level do I have if I don't even know how many people who are with my child every day have been checked out?" Baumgart asked. "I would hope that our teachers would be volunteering to get checked, if they haven't already, to prove to the community that they are safe to be with our children and want what's best for our children."

Even with the most stringent safeguards in place, Baumgart said she knows some will slip through the cracks and there's a chance of someone doing something out of character. But she'd just like the comfort of knowing the district is doing everything possible.

"The mantra of this district is if you're not moving forward, you're standing still," she said. "And I believe we're standing still on this issue."

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