August 4, 2004
CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR COACHES
By: Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst
You asked (1) if Connecticut law requires background checks for coaches and managers of school- and nonschool-sponsored sports programs, (2) whether any other states have laws requiring background checks for coaches and managers of youth sports programs, (3) if any national youth sports leagues require such checks, and (4) for information on any recent Connecticut proposals to require youth sports coaches and managers to undergo background checks.
Connecticut law requires all public school employees hired on or after July 1, 1994, including coaches, to submit to state and national criminal history record checks when they are hired. In addition, school boards have the option of requiring checks of employees hired earlier. The law also allows private schools to require their applicants and employees to submit to checks. The state criminal records check requirement does not apply to those who volunteer in schools or to nonschool-sponsored activities.
Although 42 states have laws requiring criminal background checks for teachers and other school employees, only two states have laws on criminal background checks for non-school youth sports organization personnel and neither one requires the checks. The two states with laws expressly encouraging or allowing the checks are New Jersey and Oregon.
Two major national youth sports leagues, Little League Baseball and Pop Warner Leagues, have recently started requiring annual background checks for all league employees and volunteers. The national leagues require local leagues to check the names of their volunteers against their state sex offender registry. They also provide facilities for local leagues to run computer checks on volunteers. We have requested information from the State Police on any other youth sports leagues that perform criminal records checks on coaches and other volunteers and will forward it to you when we receive it.
Since 2000, no bills to require background checks for coaches and managers in nonschool youth sports programs have been introduced in the General Assembly. But several bills to waive fees for state criminal records checks for such volunteers have been proposed as has a bill to expressly allow private entities to use the interstate identification system for preemployment checks on youth sports coaches they employ. None of the bills, which were considered by the Public Safety, Children, and Judiciary committees, was favorably reported to the floor.
Connecticut law requires every applicant for a position in a public school to state whether he has been convicted of a crime or has charges pending against him. It also requires state and national criminal history records checks for (1) each person, including an athletic coach, hired by a local board of education after July 1, 1994; (2) anyone placed in a public school under a public assistance employment program who performs a service involving direct contact with students; and (3) nurses and nurse practitioners appointed by or contracting with local school boards or provided to a private school to offer health services to students. The law also allows school boards to require checks for employees hired before July 1, 1994. Private school supervisory agents may, if they wish, require criminal record checks for their employees and applicants for employment (CGS § 10-221d, as amended by PA 04-181). The checks are performed through the State Police Bureau of Identification and the FBI.
Non-School-Sponsored Youth Sports
Connecticut law does not require background checks for coaches or other personnel overseeing or volunteering for youth sports organizations that are not sponsored by schools. Whether to require checks for coaches for these activities is up to the sponsoring organization or entity.
Although Connecticut does not require background checks for youth sports coaches who are not school employees, it is a crime in this state for an athletic coach or a person, like a piano teacher, who provides intensive, ongoing instruction to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact with (1) a student receiving coaching or instruction in a high school or (2) anyone under age 18 receiving such coaching or instruction. Sexual intercourse under these circumstances is 2nd degree assault, which is punishable by one to 10 years in prison (with a nine-month mandatory minimum sentence), a fine of up to $10,000, or both. Sexual contact under these circumstances is 4th degree sexual assault, punishable by up to a year in prison, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.
In 2004, the General Assembly extended these crimes to cover any adult aged 20 or more who has sexual intercourse or contact with anyone under age 18 who participates in a program or activity when the adult's professional, legal, occupational, or volunteer status gives him power, authority, or supervision over the younger person (CGS § 53a-71, as amended by PA 04-130).
As is the case in Connecticut, most others states' laws require criminal background checks for teachers and other school employees but not for coaches and volunteers for non-school-sponsored youth sports organizations.
According to a survey by Education Week, 42 states require criminal background checks for teacher certification, using FBI and state records and fingerprinting. The states that do not have background check requirements for teachers are Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Twenty-seven states also have laws targeting educators who use their positions of trust and authority to have sex with students under a certain age. (“State Policies on Sexual Misconduct Between Educators and Students,” Education Week, April 30, 2003.)
Youth Organization Employees
A computer search of Westlaw's state law database yielded only two states, New Jersey and Oregon, with state laws on criminal background checks for employees or volunteers in non-school sponsored youth organizations. Although both laws encourage organizations to perform the checks and provide access to their state police criminal records, neither law requires organizations to do the checks.
New Jersey. New Jersey's law, passed in 1999, allows any nonprofit youth organization to ask the state police to conduct a criminal background check of each of its current and prospective employees or volunteers. It covers all nonprofit groups, excluding public and private schools, that provide recreational, cultural, social, or other activities or services for children under age 18.
The law requires the state police to examine their own files and arrange for a federal check. The organization or the employee or volunteer must pay for the background check, and the state police may not charge more than its actual cost, as determined by the attorney general.
The law allows someone to be disqualified from serving in a youth organization if the background check shows he has been convicted of specified New Jersey crimes involving (1) danger to a person; (2) acts committed against the family, children, or incompetents; (3) theft; or (4) illegal drugs. They can also be disqualified if they have been convicted of similar crimes in any other jurisdiction.
The law allows the state police to perform a background check only if it receives written consent from the current or prospective employee or volunteer. But it also requires those people to submit their names, addresses, fingerprints, and written consent to the check (N.J.S.A §§ 15A: 3A-1-5).
Oregon. Oregon's law, adopted in 2001, is limited to providers of youth sports activities. It covers groups, other than public school districts or charter schools, that operate in Oregon and are directly involved with children participating in organized sports activity. The law encourages each youth sports provider to:
1. create and adopt a list of crimes for which conviction in Oregon or any other jurisdiction disqualifies a person from coaching or supervising youth sports activities,
2. complete a criminal history on those who coach or supervise youth sports activities, and
3. require all coaches and supervisors to complete a sports education program.
The law allows youth sports providers to ask the state police (or a local police agency in accordance with state police procedures) for information in their possession from the state's central bureau of criminal identification and allows the state police to provide any such information to the youth sports provider. It also allows the state police to conduct a national criminal records check through the FBI, if it receives the person's fingerprints. After the check, the fingerprint card must be destroyed.
The law specifies that it does not impose any additional duty or liability on a youth sports provider because it does not perform the criminal background check (O.R.S. §§ 418.691-418.701).
NATIONAL YOUTH SPORTS LEAGUES
At least three national youth sports leagues have instituted policies requiring local affiliates to perform criminal background checks on their volunteers, including coaches. In 2003, Little League Baseball began requiring all volunteers to be checked annually against state sex offender registries. (OLR Report 2004-R-0371 (copy enclosed) describes the Little League background check requirement in detail.)
Pop Warner Football and Cheerleading has also announced that checks will be required for “all board members, managers, coaches and other volunteers or hired workers who provide regular service to the league or/and have repetitive access to or contact with players or teams.” Local Pop Warner leagues must check their volunteers against the sexual offender registry of the state where the applicant lives. If the registry is not available, leagues must do a criminal history records check. These checks must be conducted annually. The league bars anyone who has been convicted of, or pled guilty to, charges involving a minor, regardless of where the offense occurred, from working with children (Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc., Youth Protection Program, copy enclosed).
Starting with the 2004 World Cup Championships, USA Diving also requires background checks for coaches, team managers, trainers, medical staff, and adult athletes participating on teams with minor athletes. The following offenses are considered grounds for failing the criminal background check:
1. sexual offenses, such as rape, child molestation, or exploitation;
2. domestic crimes such as spousal or child abuse;
3. crimes of violence, such as homicide or assault;
4. crimes of moral turpitude, such as fraud or embezzlement;
5. drug or alcohol-related offenses; or
6. crimes against property, such as burglary, theft, or destruction.
Among the national youth sports umbrella organizations offering or recommending background checks for youth organization volunteers are: the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, Kids Sports Network, and the National Council on Youth Sports.
We asked the State Police to provide the names of youth sports organizations in the state that require or request state criminal records checks. We will forward any additional information we receive.
RECENT CONNECTICUT PROPOSALS
A search of bills proposed in the Connecticut General Assembly since 2000 shows none to require youth sports organizations to perform criminal background checks of team coaches and managers. But one 2001 bill and five 2003 bills sought to reduce or eliminate fees for performing background checks for either all nonprofit organizations or specifically for Little League volunteers. The 2001 bill (SB 961) received a favorable report from the Children's Committee but was not acted on by the Appropriations Committee. The five bills proposed in 2003 died in committee, four in Public Safety (SB 255, SB 588, HB 5648, and HB 5653) and one in the Children's Committee (SB 162).
Another 2003 bill sought to allow private entities that employ athletic coaches for minors to use the Interstate Identification Index System for preemployment criminal background checks (HB 5027). The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee, which held a public hearing on it on April 7, 2003, but took no further action.