The Arlington School Board last week voted to support proposed state legislation that would allow local school jurisdictions to make criminal background checks on all persons applying for jobs in public and private schools and day care centers.
According to Edward Oliver, assistant director of personnel for Arlington schools, school and day care operators have no power to make background investigations now.
"It's an important part of an overall plan to protect our children," said School Board member Dorothy Stambaugh, who asked the county's legislative liaison to the General Assembly, Rose-Barbara Neustadt, to draft a statement in support of the legislation.
Stambaugh said the School Board's support for the legislation is a result of the recent documentation of child abuse in day care centers around the country. She said she hopes legislation will be introduced simultaneously that would offer some protection to teachers applying for jobs.
"The concern is what a school or day care center would do with this information," she said. Stambaugh said an applicant who has been convicted of a minor offense that has no relation to an ability to teach or look after children should not necessarily be disqualified.
Marjorie McCreery, executive director of the Arlington Education Association, said that although she is in favor of protecting children, she has concerns about criminal background investigations of job applicants.
She said she, too, thinks conviction of a minor offense should not necessarily interfere with an applicant's ability to obtain employment.
"I think news across the country indicates there have been real dangers to children, but I think there needs to be some balancing of privacy rights.
"I would hope that there would be some confidentiality built into whatever process is used," McCreery said.
McCreery noted that police records are sometimes wrong: "If the records are in error, I don't know what opportunity an employe has to correct it."
Other proposed state legislation on which the board took stands includes:
* Support of legislation that would permit localities to decide by referendum whether to elect their school boards.
* Support of legislation that would permit any school board to engage in collective bargaining.
* Opposition to amending the state Constitution to restrict spending by the state through limitations on the powers of the General Assembly.