Coaches’ background checks weren’t done? Richland 1 investigating

Richland 1 is reviewing files of its volunteer athletic coaches after a former employee claimed nearly 200 coaches were not properly screened against sex offender and child abuse registries.

The school district told The State newspaper the assertion made by former employee Machelle Thompson is false.

Thompson, the former director of classified employment services, made the statement during an appeals hearing after she was fired in an unrelated matter. The State obtained a transcript of the hearing from an attorney representing Thompson, who is suing the district.

While denying Thompson’s statement, the district nevertheless said it is currently checking that all its volunteer coaches have been properly screened against the state sex offender registry and the Department of Social Services’ abuse and neglect registry. It screens full-time employees as they are hired.

In her February grievance hearing to superintendent Craig Witherspoon, Thompson said that 189 coaches had not had the proper screening “to secure the safety of our children.”

The district told The State newspaper “it is false” that 189 coaches were not properly screened.

Since last June, one volunteer coach has been found to have not been properly screened, the district said. A subsequent screening found that person was not barred from working with children by any of the registries checked, the district said.

During her grievance hearing, Thompson said a longtime employee of the district was responsible for doing the background checks on coaches coming into the district.

“When questioned about why she hadn’t complied with those policies, she said that out of all the time she had been doing them, she only came across two that were negative,” Thompson said, according to the hearing transcript.

The school district’s response to The State, however, stopped short of saying the background checks actually were not done.

Rather, the responsible employee admitted to not obtaining “written documentation ... from all checks with the Sex Offender Registry and from the DSS Abuse and Neglect Registry,” the district said.

The district said it “took appropriate remedial measures” toward that employee but would not confirm whether that person had been fired.

According to the district, on June 15, 2016, an internal auditor discovered the one volunteer assistant coach who had not been appropriately screened.

Now, 10 months later, the district says it is “reviewing files on volunteer coaches to make sure that the DSS verification was obtained on each person in this category.”