Good morning, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to address the DC Council today. My name is Ryllie Danylko. I am a policy analyst at DC Action, home of the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition and I am testifying in support of the Educator Background Check Streamlining Amendment Act and to share additional recommendations for improving the background check process.
I’d like to thank Councilmember Henderson for introducing the Educator Background Check Streamlining Amendment Act, along with Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers Bonds, Nadeau, and Robert White for co-introducing it. For more than two years, the background check process as sanctioned by the School Safety Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 (SSOAA) has been the source of significant OST program delays, hiring challenges, and most importantly, a barrier for afterschool and summer programs’ ability to meet the needs of the young people they serve, particularly for those who partner with DCPS to provide programming. While we understand and appreciate the Council’s intentions in strengthening protections for students in school and OST settings, we believe the implementation of the SSOAA has been flawed and requires immediate improvements, including those proposed in this legislation. In a survey, OST coalition members have shared the following experiences as direct results of the challenges with the clearance process, demonstrating the need for this legislation, in addition to more significant improvements to the process.
Programs had to delay programs or pull out of DCPS: Some organizations that planned to provide programming at DCPS schools this year were unable to do so at some or all of the schools. One program estimates that 100 students missed out on their OST program as a direct result of these delays; another estimates that 50 students missed out; and yet another puts the estimate around 85 students. While we may never know exactly how many students in total missed out on OST because of this issue, these examples demonstrate the dire impact on OST access and participation.
Staffing became increasingly difficult: The delayed clearance process also contributed to staff turnover, impacting continuity and quality of programming for youth, who deserve reliable and high-quality OST. In many cases, volunteers or staff were hired for a role in an afterschool program but never got the opportunity to work in the program because their clearance application took 6 or more months to be approved. At one program, 5 staff members who were hired for a program found other employment options while they were waiting for their clearance approval. Another program says more than 20 volunteers who were accepted by the organization ultimately found other options because of the unreasonable waiting period. One respondent said that they went through DCPS to get the clearances in September 2021, and as of July 2022, had yet to receive their clearance. The same staff member went through the DC Department of Human Resources clearance process this past summer and reported a much quicker experience.
Feedback on the proposed legislation and recommendations for further action
I also want to encourage the DC Council to remove the CPR requirement in the SSOAA for clearing school staff and contractors by striking paragraph (5) of subsection (a) in section 103 of D.C. Law 22-294 (D.C. Official Code § 38–951.03). As Councilmembers wrote in the statement of introduction for this bill, the CPR check is not a useful tool for judging a person’s ability to work with youth, and other elements of the clearance process adequately capture information about applicants’ suitability. Most substantiated allegations in the Child Protection Register will overlap with the findings of one or all of the FBI Criminal History Record, the MPD criminal history record, and the National Sex Offender Registry. Therefore, the CPR check is at best, redundant and therefore not a good use of time and resources, and at worst, could lead to discrimination against low-income applicants. In addition, the CPR check is one of the steps most frequently cited as the source of the delays. Removing it would further achieve the Council’s goal of streamlining the clearance process.
We also urge the Council to call on the leaders of education agencies to take additional steps to improve the clearance processing time. While the legislation at hand might speed up some of the individual pieces of the process, it does not address the fundamental flaw of the clearance process, which is that it is decentralized, outdated, and disorganized. Not only is the application itself administratively burdensome, but it is not clear that DCPS in particular has any way of tracking the progress of individual applicants. It is next to impossible for candidates to get an update on the status of their application because the various pieces of the application are handled by a combination of different agencies and external vendors, with apparently no central system to track these various pieces. This puts the onus on applicants or the nonprofit that hired them to spend time tracking down someone who can give them a status update on each individual component, which is administratively burdensome, especially for community-based organizations with limited resources.
In addition, we know that in 2022, technology exists to give real-time feedback about missing required information on an online application. This must be implemented into the background clearance process so that human errors can be flagged and corrected within seconds, rather than an applicant having to wait weeks or months to be notified that they missed a section on a form. Neighboring jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia have much more efficient clearance processes. Many organizations that work in school districts around the region have said that other jurisdictions have much faster turnaround times for staff and volunteers. DC should look to them as models, or risk losing high-quality programming from organizations who might consider directing their resources toward a city, county, or school district where they know they can reach other young people in need of OST.
Thank you for your time and consideration.