Last week's inexplicable gun battle that wounded three police officers in Columbia Heights raised a number of disturbing questions.
The most alarming question arose when it was learned that David Byrne, the man charged with the recent shootings and a convicted murderer whose civil rights were restored in 1977, was employed by the Robbinsdale School District from 1982 to 1998.
As tragic as last week's shooting in a residential neighborhood was, an even greater tragedy might have occurred had the suspect turned violent while he was a school bus driver and custodian in the Robbinsdale School District.
As school authorities explain the situation, Byrne would never be hired for a school district job today. But since he started work before a 1995 law that mandated criminal background checks for school employees his past was unknown to district officials. That means that theoretically, there could be other school employees with similar backgrounds working today.
School district administrators have to make some tough calls based on the results of those criminal background checks. Should a conviction for speeding or marijuana possession automatically disqualify an applicant for a school post? Should every employee who started before the 1995 law be subjected to a criminal background check?
Fortunately the mandatory checks for anyone hired since 1995 eliminate a lot of potential problems. Some school officials say most of the criminal background checks come back empty, leading them to believe the requirement discourages many ex-criminals before they even apply.
It's difficult to set a hard and fast rule to this dilemma. The best advice we can give school administrators is to keep alert to any employee actions that might be indicators of potential violence and don't hesitate to inquire into their past if there's a concern children might be endangered.
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