West Virginia Calls for Student Background Checks

West Virginia Calls for Student Background Checks
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It’s been a few months since I’ve covered the topic of student background checks, when Governor Rick Perry granted schools in Texas authorization to run background checks on students planning to live on campus. With the unfortunate frequency of violent incidents at schools, it makes sense why some states are looking to background screening as means of safeguarding students, faculty and staff. In West Virginia, it looks like colleges and universities could gain access to conduct criminal background checks on both current and prospective students thanks to one of the bills introduced during the 2014 legislative session.

House Bill 4009: West Virginia’s Proposed Student Background Check Law

Similar to the Texas legislation Governor Perry passed last summer, West Virginia’s House Bill 4009 would allow state institutions of higher education to perform background checks on students who reside or apply to reside in on-campus housing. Once again, the focus of the legislation remains on-campus housing. Click here to read the introduced version of HB 4009.  Also like its Texas predecessor, West Virginia’s proposal would require schools to keep results confidential and the records should be destroyed “as soon as practicable” following the start of the semester. While the Texas legislation only applied to public institutions, it remains unclear whether West Virginia’s bill would apply to both private and public institutions.

Student-Driven Background Checks

Unlike the Texas legislation, however, West Virginia’s version would also allow students—at their own expense—to request their school perform a background check on another student or potential student. The student-driven background screening provision will certainly be an interesting one to watch once the law goes into effect. According to a recent article in The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register, John Davis, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for West Liberty University, finds this provision “problematic” as it could open the system to frivolous requests and even harassment by students.

Considerations of West Virginia’s Student Background Check Bill

At this time, it is too early to tell whether the proposed legislation will be passed into law later this year. But as we’ve discussed above, it wouldn’t be the first piece of legislation of this nature. For higher education institutions, it is not possible to estimate the potential cost of this law, but it may likely come from student housing fees. As West Liberty University’s general counsel expressed in The Intelligencer article, allowing students to request a background check on a fellow student may lend itself to abuse. If the law comes into effect, how can schools protect their students from harassment due to this provision?

With this provision aside, it’s good to see legislators look to background screening as a means for protecting students and schools. The violence incidents seem to be all to frequent in recent years, and it’s good to see schools becoming more proactive in addressing these concerns. That’s why schools like Bethany College, a private institution, support this legislation. The end goal is the safety of students, faculty and staff.

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