EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 4, 2013

Education workers under scrutiny

By Douglas Moser

---- — 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.

“We have historically checked the background of employees in schools and day-care centers based on information that we can get from Massachusetts, but people move around so we ought to be able to get that information from elsewhere,” said Gov. Deval Patrick, who signed the bill Jan. 10.

State House Republican Leader Brad Jones, of North Reading, filed a similar resolution in the last session as the new law, drafted by Wellesley Democrat Alice Hanlon Peisch and incorporated with Baddour’s Senate bill, was being considered. Spokesman Peter Lorenz said Jones is happy with the law, though an important part was not included in the final draft.

“One area that wasn’t included in the final bill, if a check comes up with a red flag for a conviction of a violent or sex crime, other than a misdemeanor, you would be terminated from the process or from employment,” Lorenz said. “The leader would liked to have seen it in the final bill.”

Jones will wait to see how the law is implemented and how it works, and may in the future amend it to include that provision, Lorenz said.

Local superintendents said they support the changes. “The current system doesn’t catch everyone,” said James Scully, superintendent of Haverhill Schools. “The CORI only nets us those who have broken the law in Mass.”

“This is another layer of security that would protect our students,” said Methuen Superintendent Judith Scannell. “The big plus (is) it would be nationwide.”

Thomas Scott, director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said the addition of fingerprinting and a national check is a “no-brainer,” but said some issues need to be worked out, such as where fingerprints are taken and how they will be submitted to State Police.

Most states have a fingerprint check requirement.

The Legislature started moving the bill Dec. 17, nearly five months after it was referred favorably by a committee and a couple weeks after a Level 1 sex offender was arrested and charged with dozens of counts of sexually assaulting young children. It was passed Dec. 31, just before the legislative session ended.

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