New background check rules in place for park districts
By David Sharos For The Sun July 27, 2012 2:44PM
Updated: August 30, 2012 6:23AM
Naperville Park District leaders say that a new piece of legislation signed by the governor will help them make sure kids are safe at park programs.
The Naperville district took an active role in working to get the legislation passed. The new law permits limited background checks on minors seeking employment.
Since park districts hire dozens of young people every year to help out with programs, the new rules are seen as a way to make sure that teens who have committed serious offenses aren’t hired to work with children.
The legislation specifically requires that park districts perform a criminal background check on juvenile applicants for employment including minors who have been adjudicated delinquent for the commission of a number of serious crimes. These restrictions currently apply to adults, however, with the intimate nature of many of these jobs in relation to minors, the supporters of the bill believed the rules also needed to apply to minors.
These crimes include murder, any Class X felonies, exploitation of a child, obscenity, child pornography, stalking and criminal sexual assault, among others including various drug-related crimes.
The law stated that any applicant for employment with a park district must submit to an investigation and criminal background check as a condition of employment within seven years of the application. Juveniles were exempt from the law due to confidentiality restrictions of law enforcement records.
Naperville Park District Executive Director Ray McGury said the new rules just make sense. Before he came to the Park District, McGury was chief of police in Bolingbrook.
“Putting politics aside, this is not about Republicans or Democrats or lobby groups, this is a way of protecting the kids we serve here in the Park District as well as our patrons,” McGury said. “I see this as an extension of the police work I did for 28 years before I took this job. To me, approving something like this is a no-brainer. It still protects the privacy of people.”
McGury stressed that the new rules focus on serious criminal issues, not on lesser juvenile behaviors.
“A lot of people do stupid stuff like underage drinking or curfew violations when they are 15 or 16 years old, and that doesn’t preclude them growing up and becoming police officers or civic leaders or even president of the United States,” he said. “This act is tightly written so that we don’t hire someone who shouldn’t be working with kids and could abuse them or our patrons, all because of a lack of background knowledge.”
The bill took more than three years to be approved, a journey that Park Board President Kirsten Young said, “was worth the effort.”
“This was the result of the efforts made by elected officials, and while it did take a long time to pass, I’m glad we stuck with it,” Young said. “This legislation is very important because no matter how outstanding our programs are or how beautiful our outdoors space are, it doesn’t matter if we aren’t confident our patrons and especially our children are safe to enjoy those amenities.”