District 65 Skipping Background Checks
District 65 has been voluntarily omitting background checks for at least one specific contractor who has been in the class room.
FOIA Gras is a free newsletter run by Tom Hayden (FOIA GRAS LLC) that explores various topics in local Evanston Governance, especially around School District 65 (Evanston/Skokie). I publish and share all my data and reports. Subscribing is free, so please subscribe or share!
A few months ago I FOIA’ed a list of District 65 expenses on the CONSULTING SERVICES budget within the equity budget, which is about $100,000 per year. I had to submit a couple of FOIAs in order to obtain years 2020-2022. I had no idea what any of these line items were, so I submitted a FOIA for the largest one, identified below.I picked this contract solely for that reason.
I received the contract back on December 12, 2022. This contract consisted of two parts. A first year for around $1,000 and a second year for $35,800. The second year involved 18 sessions in a classroom at Rice with students after school and a Saturday session and 6 sessions with staff. This contract was not presented to the School Board, despite the 105 ILCS 5/10-20.44 requirement to do so.
The first thing I noticed upon reading the contract is that the requirement for background checks were red-lined from the contract. You can view the redlining below.
Furthermore, the District is also obligated to require contractors who interact with students to carry various forms of liability insurance. It should be noted that three lines were removed from the insurance requirements on this contract, which include requirements for auto insurance, workers compensation, and sexual abuse insurance.
I have seen many contracts related to the school district and they’re almost always boilerplate consulting contracts, which include background checks and insurance requirements. In fact, I just got a FOIA request filled yesterday for a contractor doing professional development (not interacting with students at all) and there was a requirement for background checks. The background or insurance requirement was not red-lined.
District 65 Response
I reached out to District 65 for comment and their response is below, confirming that background checks were not conducted.
Thank you for reaching out and raising these questions. The statute that you cited in your email does not require Board approval of the contract but instead requires school districts to list on the District’s website contracts that exceed $25,000. In regard to this particular contract, it was inadvertently left out of the District’s web posting. This contract, however, has since terminated. Regarding approval, pursuant to Board Policy 4:60, all contracts must be approved or authorized by the Board. As that policy further provides, adoption of the budget authorizes the Superintendent to purchase budgeted services. A separate Board action was not required here.
In addition you raised concerns regarding the deletion of the criminal background provision. The Illinois School Code requires a criminal background check of contractors who have direct daily contact with students. The initial year of the services did not include student programs. The second year of the agreement included a total of seven sessions where students were involved and District staff members were present at every session. The service provider’s limited supervised interaction with students did not rise to “direct daily contact” necessitating a criminal background check. Again, as stated above, this agreement has been terminated and the District is not receiving services from this company.
I reached out to the Regional Superintendent of Schools. I will not post his entire email here. He also argued that only contractors “who have direct, daily contact” are required to have background checks conducted. The origin of this is 105 ILCS 5/10-21.9. However, in my conversations related to the PTA, it is common practice for District 65 to conduct background checks on all sorts of school volunteers who do not meet that criteria. I am certain at least a few of my readers have had background checks run on them by District 65, despite not having “direct, daily contact.”
The School District also confirmed that this contractor fulfilled seven sessions with students, while his contract called for 22 sessions. Part of the contract itself calls for things like “Snack for program sessions ($150 per session) = $2700.00” Despite this, the District paid out the contract in full, over $35,000. I have sent a follow up email to the District to address this question, and I will post a follow-up when it comes in.
Lastly, the District claimed this contract was “inadvertently left out of the District’s web posting.” but there has been a pattern of this type of mistake. For instance, I wrote about a similar violation of the law, just five days ago. My conversations with the Regional Superintendent indicate the District has some new system in place to handle this.
I’m going to share some opinion now; as a parent in District 65 this really bothers me. It’s not just the financial waste, the blatant violation of 105 ILCS 5/10-20.44, and the background check hypocrisy. It bothers me that I honestly have no idea to what degree background checks have been conducted at all given the loose definition of “direct, daily contact”. It certainly seems like some people are exempt from background checks while others are not and some folks can be exempt for no reason. Our children interact with all sorts of non-educator staff, such as Right At School employees, recess supervisors, and so on. The District (or someone) needs to audit these contracts.
It is worth noting that they redacted information on the screenshots they sent me, so that I could not request a FOIA for specific account number again like this in the future.