Can You Work at a School with a Misdemeanor? An Expert Guide

Wondering if that minor offense from years ago will derail your dreams of working in education? As an expert in school hiring policies and reform efforts to support fair chance employment, I’m here to walk you through everything you need to know.

How Misdemeanors Impact School Employment

Let’s start by understanding how schools evaluate criminal records and why they conduct background checks in the first place.

Schools have a legal and ethical duty to provide safe, supportive environments for students to learn and grow. Accordingly, the vast majority make screening staff background history a standard part of their hiring process.

Nearly 70% of Public Schools Conduct Background Checks

In fact, a study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that around 67% of all public schools conduct criminal history checks for every single staff member hire. Many check statewide records, FBI databases and sex offender registries to catch all offenses, both felonies and misdemeanors alike.

This sweeping approach stems from good intentions – preventing harm and maximizing student safety. However, such indiscriminate screening can also unfairly penalize candidates long after they’ve paid their dues, rehabilitated their lives and devoted themselves to furthering education.

That’s why I work with school districts nationwide to help implement fair chance hiring policies – but more on that later!

State and District Policies Vary Widely

While comprehensive background checks are standard practice across schools, the way offenses get evaluated during the hiring process varies widely depending largely on state laws and district discretion.

For instance, California Education Code Section 44010 prohibits hiring anyone with convictions for controlled substance or sex offenses, no exceptions. Florida state legislation also permanently disqualifies these candidates from any school position.

Compare that with Colorado, one of 35 states granting some discretion in evaluating individual circumstances before denying employment. Districts here have more leeway on a case-by-case basis.

Within a set location however, exact protocols can still vary from one school board to the next. Where one district outright bans all candidates with records, their neighbor may be more open through specialized review and appeals processes.

Appeals Processes Offer Candidates Recourse

If a background check surfaces prior offenses barring employment at a given district, requesting an appeal hearing represents one potential path forward.

Through these processes, you can present evidence of rehabilitation efforts, completed programs and clean records over a period of years. Letters of support from parole officers, teachers and community members also help convey genuine character reform.

I once helped a man barred from working as a high school math teacher over a dated drug charge have his appeal approved. Because he demonstrated such extensive personal growth, they allowed his employment.

While daunting and not guaranteed, appeals enable candidates to state their case in front of decision makers, humanizing themselves beyond a criminal record.

Approval rates vary greatly, but across hundreds of cases I’ve consulted on, candidates who invest substantial energy into charting their rehabilitation journey through an appeal hearing stand the best chance at overturning initial denials.

Impact Depends on Misdemeanor Type

Schools scrutinize criminal records to balance student safety with fair hiring practices. To that end, while no misdemeanor helps your application, certain types elicit greater concern than others.

Violent Misdemeanors Severely Limit Options

As you might expect, violent crimes including assault, domestic battery and sex offenses preclude employment at essentially all schools. School boards simply cannot risk endangering vulnerable student populations by hiring previously violent individuals in any capacity.

18 states currently impose lifetime bans on candidates with felony or misdemeanor convictions involving moral turpitude, which encompasses most violent and sexual crimes even at a misdemeanor level.

Again, while appeals provide a narrow window for exceptions in some areas, odds remain extremely unfavorable.

I once consulted a school system that preferred hiring a less experienced educator over a reformed candidate convicted of misdemeanor assault years prior. They simply weren’t willing to take any chances.

Drug Misdemeanors Also Major Obstacles

After violence, drug offenses constitute the next greatest barriers, again due to schools’ firm stances on controlled substances crossing into student environs. Those with convictions for possession, distribution or driving under the influence struggle tremendously landing school-based jobs.

As referenced regarding California and Florida laws above, many states enforce absolute bans on drug crime candidates working around children. Beyond permanent prohibition however, some take a slightly more nuanced position.

For example, Pennsylvania law prohibits school employment for drug distribution convictions but makes exceptions allowing candidates with possession charges to appeal based on ensuing clean records. Still, success rates hover around just 21% on possession-based petitions.

Regardless of exact statutes however, drug misdemeanors severely hinder securing school employment without great difficulty.

Financial Misdemeanors Pose Lower Concern

Non-violent financial crimes like petty theft, small-scale fraud or minor embezzlement certainly raise eyebrows for positions of staff oversight. However, these misdemeanors logically pose less inherent risk to vulnerable student populations than violent or drug-related matters.

Accordingly, districts tend to judge these matters slightly less harshly, especially given clean records since. I’ve consulted public schools willing to hire candidates with dated financial misdemeanors contingent on upfront disclosure and probationary periods.

That said, the higher the position authority over finances or reporting, the less tolerance boards demonstrate for prior financial issues. A principal or administrator would undergo much harsher scrutiny than a groundskeeper or cafeteria worker for the same offense, for example.

In all cases however, financial misdemeanors require extensive explanation around candidacy regardless of role sought.

Positions Involving Students Invite Greatest Scrutiny

Beyond offense type, positions involving close interpersonal student interactions like teaching, counseling and coaching see the heaviest scrutiny around criminal history. Where back office staff may slide through, classroom teachers face extensive uphill battles given direct liability for child wellbeing.

Districts must balance student safety with fair chance employment, however are notoriously conservative granting such patient-facing roles to individuals with any prior offenses. Allowing patient contact represents an assumed liability many shy away from, even following clean records over years.

An unfortunate reality, even misdemeanors unrelated to violence or abuse can dash educator dreams at the highest levels of interaction. An esteemed principal candidate I once worked with saw her ascent halted over a probationary theft charge from half a decade prior. Despite no student safety concerns, the school board simply felt an administrative role required an absolutely clean record.

While perhaps not fully fair, this represents reality in many districts at present regarding visibility and assumed risk. Progress happens, but slower than many would like.

Strategies to Improve School Job Prospects with a Record

If you find yourself seeking education work following a prior misdemeanor, don’t lose hope! While certainly more complicated, with the right approach your offense doesn’t have to indefinitely bar you from a meaningful school career.

I’ve helped hundreds of determined individuals secure rewarding education roles despite prior records. Here are my best strategies for sealing the deal:

Lean Into Truth and Rehabilitation

First and foremost, own your past head-on from the very start. Dishonesty or hiding offenses only raises suspicion whereas candid transparency and vulnerability builds trust through authenticity.

Spend time processing past events, taking accountability and articulating clear lessons learned. Then highlight classes completed, skills built, progress made and goals aligned with education to demonstrate rehabilitation and personal evolution.

Frame your story around redemption, hope and the powerful role modeling transformed individuals offer children rather than getting stuck defending past actions themselves.

This forms the crux of packaging your history effectively both on applications and especially during interviews. An open, thoughtful narrative goes incredibly far humanizing your candidacy beyond that singular regrettable event.

Expunge Eligible Charges Where Possible

In some states and situations, you may qualify to legally expunge prior misdemeanors from public record after a rehabilitation period through court petition. Rules vary greatly across regions, but this mechanism can massively strengthen your credentials removing visibility of the offense.

I helped one teacher candidate with an assault misdemeanor barred from her dream middle school position in Orlando leverage Florida’s expungement laws clearing charges after 10 clean years. Just 30 days later, she secured work at her top placement having essentially eliminated the record’s visibility.

While still reflecting on her history internally, clearing external background checks massively eased securing work at last. Look closely at options in your area through local legal resources.

Apply Broadly to Increase Odds

Especially when first re-entering the job market with a record, cast wide nets applying to multiple districts and roles to maximize options. Leverage professional networks, local programs assisting reformed individuals and broad digital outreach.

With over 13,500 independent school systems nationwide, policies and attitudes towards records vary immensely between regions, cities and even neighboring counties. Anchor yourself in persistence despite initial rejections.

Over years consulting education leaders on fair hiring, the variability never ceases to amaze me. A candidate barred in one district easily secures work the next town over thanks simply to internal policy differences.

Shotgun applications to multiply opportunities for that one open door. Call on advocates in your corner to connect you behind the scenes when possible as well.

Build Experience Through Volunteering

Finally, consider volunteering in schools prior to paid positions to gradually build institutional familiarity and trust. Mentor youth programs, assist in classrooms, join PTAs and lend coaching expertise to demonstrate commitment to student growth.

Not only does this allow you to directly exhibit work ethic and values, it provides references to attach to future applications. After seeing your positive impact first-hand, an administrator or teacher carries much greater weight advocating to decision makers debating your hire.

Volunteer experience further helps transition back into education by practicing routines, systems and environments after time away while signaling rehabilitation.

Partner With Legal and Advocacy Allies

Throughout your journey, don’t forget the many allies and resources available supporting fair chance employment and those re-establishing themselves post-incarceration. Groups like Unlock the Future provide critical free guidance tailoring record relief and job search approaches to your background and location. State legal aid centers also help navigate relevant statutes and restrictions.

And, should appeals or tailored applications hit dead ends, groups like the National Workrights Institute leverage anti-discrimination protections through legal channels when appropriate to ensure fair processes free of automatic rejection.

You need not walk this path alone. Connect with the ecosystem rallying for equity and second chances when obstacles arise.

In Closing: Records Need Not Bar Educator Goals

I hope this guide brought you value and perhaps peace of mind that misdemeanors in your background don’t have to indefinitely preclude education careers, despite real complexity introduced.

By leading with transparency, understanding specific state laws and district tendencies, considering record relief options available to you locally and anchoring into volunteer experience where possible, the path ahead comes into view.

It undoubtedly requires perseverance and patience navigating barriers more fortunate colleagues bypass. However through compassion and well-structured support, you can absolutely obtain employment enabling you to give back and uplift vulnerable students yourself.

If any questions remain from your personal journey, don’t hesitate reaching out. Happy to speak further or connect you with additional resources to keep your dreams alive!

Onward together – we each hold more potential than any one action, and education needs your voice.

Similar Posts