Recently, Meredith Burris Pruitt, a 31-year-old teacher from Gastonia, N.C., was arrested for using teens to push drugs around school according to the Gaston Gazette. According to media accounts, the former Forestview High English teacher was terminated after an anonymous tip to school officials prompted an investigation into the drug ring. According to the Charlotte Observer the ensuing investigation showed that Burris Pruitt supplied Clonazepam pills — a drug used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, and seizures — to a 15-year-old student and asked the student to give her back profits from the sales. This case has serious school security aspects due to the nature of the alleged criminal acts.
These types of tragic incidents have occurred in the past but are fortunately rare in the field of education in the United States. Screening of applicants can have a direct impact on school violence prevention and other school safety efforts. This and other cases of educators being arrested for serious crimes highlight the need for school officials to not only conduct thorough criminal history checks of applicants but to carefully consider the findings of such checks as well. We have no knowledge of any issues of this type in this particular case and are not insinuating that the district did not conduct proper applicant screening, rather we are using this case as an illustration that like other fields like law enforcement, medicine and business, there are people in any field who will commit serious crimes in the work setting resulting in a need for careful screening.
It is not unusual for some schools and districts to hire employees who they know have criminal records sometimes compromising campus safety. While having a criminal record should not automatically exclude someone from working in a school district, certain types of arrests and patterns of multiple arrests should be reviewed with extreme care before the candidate is offered a position. In addition, the hiring authority should never rely on an applicant’s version of what happened when they were arrested. Police reports, court records and interviews with criminal justice personnel should be used to vet the situation in such cases. Safer schools require careful selection of school employees. In our school safety assessments, we often see significant gaps in school safety due to poor employee screening processes.