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Surrogate Parents


School Employees Rank High in the 'Trust' Department


Dave Arnold


Almost 30 years ago a nurse handed me a little bundle of life. Suddenly, as my newborn daughter rested in my arms, nothing else in this world mattered. At that instant, I had become the richest man in the world because I was holding the most valuable thing in my world.

I realized that I had been entrusted with a life and I could not let her down. I think the responsibilities of being a parent are similar to those of a teacher, administrator, and education support professional (ESP). Regardless of your job title, school employees are entrusted with young lives, millions of them. And we must do all we can to honor this trust.

A Most Trusted Group

To some extent, we are succeeding.  A few years ago, the Associated Press did a survey of young people to learn whom they trusted most in their lives. School employees came in second. Parents and grandparents were in the top spot, and rightly so.

Children trust their teachers and school staff more than they do the police, clergy, doctors, and fire fighters. Of all school employees, bus drivers have to take even greater care with students.

Maximum Care

They are the ones who must maneuver a large, bulky vehicle down busy city streets and narrow roads on the outskirts of town. When a child leaves home in the morning and boards a school bus, that child's parents have placed their most valuable possession into the hands of the driver.

In most cases, this is done routinely and taken for granted. I think this is because drivers have earned the trust and respect of parents. I don't know of any other profession except for law enforcement where an employee is required to be fingerprinted, tested for drugs, and pass a background check in order to drive a vehicle (this requirement varies from state to state).

Careless Background Check

Drivers employed by busing companies under contract with school districts are not held to the same scrutiny as those drivers working directly for school districts. In St. Louis, Missouri recently, a school bus driver was found to have a criminal record, including child abuse.

This was discovered only after the driver was involved in a bus accident. The bus company had failed to do a complete background check, which can cost between $40 and $75.

Not a Guessing Game

Most schools require a criminal background check to be performed on new employees. This not only helps assure school officials of who they are inviting to help manage the school, but also helps build confidence among parents about who is supervising their children.

The thoroughness of a background check in the private sector is anyone's guess. School officials should be mindful of this, especially if they want to maintain a high level of trustworthiness among students and parents.
 
(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at dparnold@csuol.com.)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.