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FOX 13 Investigates: 326 educators across Utah accidentally employed without full background checks

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Posted at 7:22 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 12:06:02-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The FOX 13 Investigates team has learned 326 educators across the state have accidentally been employed without a full background check.

The mistakes took place over a span of more than thirty years.

FOX 13 previously broke this story in February.

At the time, the Utah State Board of Education said only 28 employees slipped through the cracks without a background check.

The problem turned out to be significantly larger than advertised — more than 11 times larger.

Instead of informing students, parents, or the public about the problem, the Utah State Board of Education informed individual school districts.

Each school district was allowed to make its own choice regarding notification of families.

Jennifer Throndsen, the director of teaching and learning for the Utah State Board of Education, said each of the 326 educators have now completed a valid background check with clean results. Each of the 326 teachers would have passed a background check if it were properly conducted at the time, she said.

“We were very thankful to find that our educators who were not documented appropriately in the system didn’t have any offenses that put students at risk,” Throndsen said. “Even one (mistake) for me was too many, so when we hit over 300 it was like — okay, we have a systematic improvement to do to make sure that we can avoid this and really mitigate any similar type of risk in the future.”

Utah law requires educators who have access to students to pass a background check for the sake of child safety.

The Utah State Board of Education blamed the problem on a series of data entry mistakes likely made by the same employee.

“It’s completely the Utah State Board of Education’s responsibility, and our fault, in terms of data entry,” Throndsen said. “There’s no reasonable error that is acceptable in this space.”

The employee who made the data entry mistake has been “removed” from that responsibility and replaced with someone who is “higher paid” and “more qualified.”

Two additional employees will review the data entry to ensure mistakes do not happen again.

“This was a harsh reminder that we really have to keep our eyes on things that are very critically important such as background checks,” Throndsen said. “I think the stress and anxiety that this has put on our staff has created some due diligence that was maybe not there before… We knew it was important obviously, but sometimes when you get overburdened you forget some of the critical pieces of the work.”

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