Wednesday, June 28, 2006

(NY) Yeshiva's in NY Need to do Criminal Background Checks on Employees

A HUGE Thank you goes to Elliot Pasik, who started lobbying for this new law!
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Lawmakers OK Background Checks
New fingerprinting law giving private schools ability to weed out known sex offenders awaits governor’s signature.

Jennifer Friedlin - Special to The Jewish Week
Jewish Week (NY)
June 28, 2006

The New York State Legislature has passed a bill that would permit private schools to conduct federal background checks of prospective employees, enabling yeshivas, Catholic schools and other private institutions to determine whether a person is a convicted sex offender before they are hired.

“I’m pleased that we [have] now opened the availability of getting criminal background checks in private schools,” said Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach), the bill’s sponsor.

Passage of the legislation comes in the wake of allegations that a yeshiva in Flatbush, Brooklyn, harbored a sex offender for decades. The allegations and a lawsuit against Rabbi Yehuda Kolko of Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Temimah have generated a debate within the Jewish community about how to protect Jewish students.

The bill, which must still be signed by Gov. George Pataki before it can become law, is similar to a 2000 law that requires New York’s public schools to conduct fingerprint-based checks in the FBI’s national criminal background check system. Such checks reveal whether a person has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor anywhere in the nation.

Until now, a “no fingerprinting” law forbade private schools from running federal background checks on job candidates. To get around the law, some schools have conducted name-based checks through private companies. However, those checks are thought to be susceptible to fraud. In addition, name-based checks only reveal felonies, while misdemeanors, including some sex abuse offenses, are omitted.

While the new law represents a step toward leveling the playing field between New York’s public schools and the private schools that serve 500,000 students statewide, the legislation treats the private schools with a degree of lenience not afforded the public schools.

Not only does the new bill allow private schools to opt out of doing the background checks on prospective teachers, janitors and aides, it also does not contain a mandatory reporting provision requiring private schools to report credible allegations of sexual abuse to the authorities. Public schools are required by law to report all credible cases of sex abuse.

Leaders within the fervently Orthodox Jewish community have generally opposed reporting abuses to outside authorities, often opting to handle allegations by themselves.

The 2003 guidelines issued by Torah Umesorah, the national network of yeshivas and Hebrew day schools, say that principals who become aware of inappropriate sexual behavior between staff and a student must take action that “may include, under appropriate circumstances, reporting to the civil authorities when the principal determines that there is reason to believe that inappropriate activity has in fact occurred, insofar as halacha and secular law require such reporting.”

Critics say the absence of a uniform standard for reporting sexual abuse allegations can lead to the mishandling of abusers. If, for example, a school fires an alleged offender without attempting to prosecute, he or she could wind up in another school, as has been known to happen. Most sex offenders are never prosecuted.

While some legislators had previously said they would not support a bill that did not contain a mandatory reporting requirement, people close to the legislative process said there was not enough time to debate the merits of such a requirement before the session ended last week. Instead, lawmakers opted to move ahead with the background check aspect of the bill and leave the discussion about mandatory reporting for next year.

Elliot Pasik, an Orthodox attorney from Long Beach who first approached state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Center) with the idea for a background check bill, said he was thrilled with the bill’s passage. He noted, however, that it was now up to parents to ensure that schools perform the checks.

“Parents are the teeth” of this bill, Pasik said. “We must collectively insist that our yeshivas fingerprint, even to the point of withdrawing our children from those schools which do not fingerprint.

“Fingerprinting must be done, and if it isn’t, parents should return to the legislature in time for next year’s session, and ask for a mandatory fingerprinting law,” Pasik said.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elliot Pasik -- You are a HERO! The next step is making the Criminal Background checks manditory for private schools, just like they are for public schools.

It's important to remember that the majority of sex offenders have never been convicted of a crime. Perhaps we should ask that all teachers also undergo a psychological evaluation too?

June 28, 2006 10:20 PM  
Anonymous The Guardian said...

I work in a day school in Maryland. Interestingly, you don't get in the door as an employee, be it custodian, teacher, headmaster, aide, or other without a complete background check which includes fingerprinting. I believe this is the law in Maryland.

The problem with psychological testing is that there is no such thing as a truly objective evaluator. If you go LOOKING for something, you will ALWAYS find SOMETHING.

How do you deal with that issue?

Truthfully, if a person looks at pornography privately in their home, but it has no bearing on their job,doesn't affect their relationships or how they interact with their co-workers, and in the case of a teacher, for example, their students do you hold that against them? Is it even anyone's business?

Diligence on the part of administrators, teachers, parents, and students is an essential component.

June 29, 2006 7:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guardian,
I disagree with you regarding psychological testing. According to your statement you are saying if someone undergoes psychological testing looking to see if someone has the tendency to molest children, the tester will find it in everyone tested?

I doubt they will find the tendencies in majority people the test.

Why is it that if an individual is attempting to get a security clearance for a position with the US government that they have to undergo psychological testing?

I think to work with our children we need to be as careful as the government is with classified information.

June 29, 2006 8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous. Considering the number of cases of childhood sexual abuse by school employees, I'd rather be safe then sorry.

On average a child molester will molest 117 times. That's a lot of innocent children being harmed if you ask me.

We need to use as many tools as possible to protect our next generation NOT to become the next victim.

June 29, 2006 8:43 AM  
Anonymous the guardian said...

I don't disagree completely, I just think that the evaluation would have to be extremely focused and looking only to conclude if the subject is capable of controlling his/her impulses. You can't evaluate someone for their fantasies or fleeting thoughts, right?

Our childrent do need to be protected, clearly. I just think that coming up with an evaluating tool that will be accurate, satisfy everyone will be almost impossible.

What DOES the government look for?

June 29, 2006 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the kind remarks.

We at least need to bring the qualifying standards for nonpublic school teachers up to those for public school teachers, in terms of training, education, certificatin, and the like. Background checks are only the first step. I'm in for the long haul. As I wrote in a Jewish Press article on January 11, 2006, we need a Yeshiva Parents Association. We need to organize and get better laws on the books, and then we need to monitor our schools. And take it from me, the yeshivas even want us to do this. They want to improve their own standards, they just need outside prodding.

Anybody who is interested in helping me form such a group may contact me at my email address below. You can be involved as actively as you want, or you can just be counted among us and watch.

Thanks again.

Elliot B. Pasik, Esq.
Long Beach, New York
efpasik@aol.com

June 29, 2006 3:38 PM  

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