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After arrests, schools to tighten screening of workers' histories

Chancellor Dennis Walcott set something of speed record today by announcing new policies to screen school employees for histories of abuse.

Earlier this week, Walcott vowed to review screening procedures for school aides after an aide at P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side was charged with sexual abuse of a student. The aide had been found to have inappropriately touched a student when he worked at a different elementary school, but P.S. 87 did not seem to have been aware of that investigation.

The arrest at P.S. 87 came just days after a different aide was charged with videotaping sex abuse he committed inside a Brooklyn elementary school. On Thursday, another school worker was arrested on sex abuse charges: a teacher at P.S. 174 in Queens who had been found more than a decade ago to have behaved inappropriately toward students.

Today, the Department of Education announced a new policy that will allow schools to see whether people they are considering hiring were ever found to have behaved inappropriately at other schools.

The schools will be able to see the results of any substantiated inquiry conducted by either office that investigates allegations of misconduct by school workers, not just inquiries relating to sex abuse. The department has an in-house investigations unit, the Office of Special Investigations, but also sends cases of misconduct to retired detectives at the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation. SCI had substantiated the abuse allegations against the school workers at P.S. 87 and P.S. 174.

Under the new policy, described in a letter being sent home to parents today, Walcott also says that city officials will review cases that the office substantiated in the past, assess whether sufficient action was taken, and “take appropriate action where necessary to ensure the safety of our students.”

“I want to reassure you that our schools have supports in place to promote a safe and secure learning environment in every one of our schools, including age-appropriate curricula around social and emotional health as well as school staff trained to address these needs,” Walcott tells parents in the letter. “We will continue to look for additional ways to support our schools in this effort.”

The letter that is going to home to parents today is below:

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