Closing one of the last gaps in ensuring the safety of students from school workers in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) has approved an initiative requiring all high school referees to undergo criminal background checks by a unanimous vote of the board of the directors on February 25, 2015. The MIAA has indicated that the plan, which may be amended further, would require all 8,000 officials and umpires to go through an extensive screening process by the spring of 2016. Massachusetts is the 28th state to pass such a requirement.

The MIAA plans to cover the expenses for the new system, estimated at $280,000 to $320,000 for the first year, by charging officials $35 to $40 per screening. Requirements of the new initiative include:

  • An official who is charged with a crime while working in the system may be suspended immediately until the case is resolved;
  • An official who is suspended or disqualified may appeal twice to separate MIAA review panels;
  • Officials will be rescreened every five years.

Athletic Directors across the state have lauded the decision, saying it adds an important level of safety for all student-athletes. “This is a big step in terms of becoming more actively engaged with a group of people who have been working with our kids,” MIAA associate executive director Richard Pearson told the Boston Globe.

Some groups, however, have voiced caution in subjecting Massachusetts officials to excessive screening. The president of the Eastern Massachusetts Soccer Officials Association, Tom Stagliano, told the Boston Globe that a comprehensive system that tracks which officials have already undergone the screening process is needed. “We will support the efforts of the MIAA to conduct across-the-board CORI [Criminal Offender Record Information] checks on all sports officials. However, since well over 40 percent of sports officials are currently school teachers and administrators who are already subjected to a CORI, we believe that the MIAA should work with the school superintendents to arrive at one CORI database for all teachers, administrators, workers, school volunteers, and sports officials across the entire commonwealth. An individual should only be subjected to one CORI process, which is the most cost-effective and efficient method.”