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Report: Hillsborough Schools never checked national sex offender database before hiring volunteers

Hillsborough County

When it comes to children’s safety, most people are on the same page. 

“I definitely think background checks should be done completely, especially when it has to do with schools,” said Triscia Kelly, a Tampa resident. 

“I volunteer at my son’s school and we have to have background checks, so, I would want someone who interacts with him everyday to have them,” said Adrienne Andersen. 

But according to a Florida audit conducted by the Auditor General, the Hillsborough County School district never checked the national sex offender database before hiring tens of thousands of volunteers.

The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) shares sex offender data nationwide. The website, which is provided by the U.S. Justice Department, lets you search the public sex offender websites of 50 states and other territories. 

But when it comes to the Hillsborough County School district, “absent effective controls to ensure that background searches of school volunteers are performed in accordance with State law, there is an increased risk that volunteers with unsuitable backgrounds may have direct contact with students,” the auditor’s report concluded. 

When reached for comment, Hillsborough County Schools spokeswoman Tanja Arja explained that the state was slow alerting the district to the new law.

“Once that auditor made us aware of that we changed our processes,” Arja said.

According to Arja, the names of volunteers now have to go through a rigorous state and national check before someone is allowed to volunteer at the district. 

“We must know who’s on our campuses and working with our students at all times,” she said.

The auditor’s report also found that 37 employees of the district never went through background re-screenings, which are required once every five years.

The district changed that process to make sure no one falls through the cracks again.

“I think it’s their obligation to do that.  I may take time, but it has to be done,” Kelly said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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