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EDITORIAL: Inadequate background checks

Due diligence is a must in hiring. Putting a potential criminal in contact with customers can have disastrous consequences — especially if great public trust is placed in the position.

Last week, Nevadans got a double dose of disconcerting news about public-sector background checks, and the reports should sound alarms at every government human resources office.

As reported Thursday by the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard in a copyrighted story, the Clark County School District conducted a shockingly inadequate vetting of teacher Melvyn Sprowson before placing him in a kindergarten class at Wengert Elementary School last year. If the system had inquired about Sprowson’s job history from his previous employer, the Los Angeles Unified School District, it would have found he faced disturbing accusations of misconduct and student sexual abuse and was kept out of the classroom for five years. (The challenge of firing problem teachers is a topic for another day.)

Today Sprowson faces charges of kidnapping a 16-year-old Henderson girl. Prosecutors allege he gave the teen a sexually transmitted disease. He is being held on $650,000 bail.

He never would have had the opportunity to harm the teen if the Clark County School District had asked Los Angeles Unified for more than his salary history and start and end dates. A reference contacted by Clark County claimed to be Sprowson’s supervisor but wasn’t. Los Angeles Unified has no record of a reference call from Clark County, Mr. Milliard reported. Clark County was duped — apparently there is no vetting of references — putting a predator in direct contact with children.

The school district wouldn’t answer more specific questions about Sprowson’s vetting and hiring because — you guessed it — it’s a confidential personnel matter.

Meanwhile, a National Review investigation of Nevada’s Obamacare “navigators” — people paid to help uninsured Americans sign up for Affordable Care Act-compliant health insurance — matched 11 names with individuals prosecuted in criminal cases. But the Nevada Division of Insurance refused to provide National Review with information on how background checks on navigators are conducted and which offenses might disqualify an applicant. Ironically, the division cited a consumer safety law in denying the records request.

The Silver State Health Insurance Exchange told National Review the navigators did not appear to be felons, but couldn’t say so conclusively. The backgrounds of Obamacare navigators are important because they collect personal and financial information from applicants. Project Veritas has released hidden-camera footage of navigators encouraging customers to lie on their insurance applications.

A simple criminal background check is important, but it’s not enough. Sprowson never faced criminal charges in California, so Clark County’s inquiry turned up nothing. A school district spokeswoman said the system is reviewing its hiring policies. Hallelujah. Nosy teenagers could do a better job vetting applicants from their laptops.

Where is the accountability?

Background checks are about much more than qualifications and past performance — they’re about public safety. Failures such as these cannot be repeated.

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