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February 4, 2013

Education workers under scrutiny

A new law signed last month requires people applying to any public or licensed job that puts the person in contact with children to submit fingerprints for a national criminal history check and for current school employees to undergo checks at least every three years.

The law, sponsored in part by former Methuen State Sen. Steven Baddour, expands the required check from just the state Criminal Offender Registry Inquiry to a national search using the Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal check.

“Since it’s hard to be too careful when it comes to the safety of students, I think more comprehensive screening has to be seen as a positive step,” said Jeffrey Riley, superintendent/receiver of Lawrence Public Schools.

The requirement applies to any employee of a school, public or private, who may have direct unmonitored contact with children, including teaching, transportation, grounds and subcontractor employees. It also covers anyone applying for a family child-care certificate, to in-home, non-relative caregivers, and to prospective foster parents or adoptive parents.

Fingerprints will be submitted to the State Police for a state criminal history check, according to the new law, and forwarded to the FBI for a national criminal check. Results will be forwarded to the local School Committee, superintendent or principal.

Applicants and employees submitting fingerprints who do not require certification will be charged no more than $35 for the background check; those who do will be charged no more than $55. The funds will go into a newly-created Fingerprint-Based Background Check Trust Fund, to be used by the Department of Criminal Justice to pay for FBI searches.

The law goes into effect at the start of the coming school year, and a new phased-in background check schedule will start Sept. 1. That schedule will be developed by the state. All school employees hired before Sept. 1 must submit fingerprints within three years of the law going into effect.

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