Background checks mandated in Mass. for school employees

Massachusetts will now require all school districts to fingerprint prospective school personnel and forward the information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation prior to hiring them, becoming the last state in the nation to adopt this background check program.

The fingerprinting systems, which began operating this month, are being tested in a dozen school districts across the Commonwealth. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education hopes to establish fingerprinting in the remainder of Massachusetts school districts over the coming weeks, said DESE Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson.

“We’re still testing out the systems to make sure there’s no problems,” he said. “We hope it will make the school districts and schools safer.”

Prior to the legislation requiring fingerprinting and national background checks, Massachusetts school districts used the Criminal Offender Record Information system to find a prospective or current employee’s criminal history.

Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said the issue with CORI was that it only allowed school districts to see a person’s criminal history within Massachusetts.

“It doesn’t provide us with broader research around a national scale of information,” he said. “The fingerprint bill simply allows us access to a larger bank of information for anyone who has had any kind of criminal activity around the country.”

After reaching out to a variety of companies for bids and service proposals, the state reached a decision in July to partner with MorphoTrust, a company that has provided fingerprinting branches across the country for nearly two decades, said Denny Wear, senior director of program management at MorphoTrust.

MorphoTrust has opened four regional fingerprinting centers in Beverly, Boston, Bourne and Pittsfield since the partnership was announced. There are plans to expand the branches across the Commonwealth as the fingerprinting system grows, Wear said.

“The state recognized that they needed a solution that included fingerprint background checks,” she said. “[Our job is] to provide the access for people to go anywhere within a regional distance to be fingerprinted.”

Fees for fingerprinting will be paid by the applicants or current employees, Wulfson said. Licensed teachers will pay $55, and all other district employees will pay $35.

Boston Public Schools has not yet received confirmation to implement the new fingerprinting system for their employees. Once the state allows them to begin the implementation process, BPS plans to begin fingerprinting new employees and gradually work their way to existing employees. The entire process should take three years, said BPS spokesman Brian Ballou.

“We’ve always wanted the ability to do deeper background checks, and we’re glad that we will now have the tools to do so,” he said. “The district’s highest priority is to provide a safe atmosphere for all of our students and staff and we believe that this measure is a valuable tool towards ensuring that.”

Several residents said the fingerprinting system will help ensure safety for children in school, but it must be implemented carefully.

Omar Guevara, 34, of Dorchester, said background checks could be a valuable way to look at an employee’s recent past, but their criminal history should not define them.

“After seven years, a person’s not the same person they were seven years ago,” he said. “They shouldn’t judge an individual based on something that happened seven or eight years ago. They could be a completely different person. People change. People grow. That’s just how it is.”

Carol Boggs, 66, of Brighton, said she works as a school librarian and is concerned that the new fingerprinting system will not be implemented effectively.

“Anyone that works for children needs to be checked out,” she said. “[But] I have some concerns about the implementation. Are teachers going to have to take time off? They can’t just leave the classroom to go [get fingerprinted].”

Brittny Barnes, 23, of Dorchester, said the national background check system will be a better system for employers to evaluate applicants than the former state background checks.

“There should definitely be a national security check for anyone who wants to work in schools, especially with all the school disasters that have been going on,” she said. “I don’t think the background checks they do [just in the state] are a good assessment of character, so getting an idea of who a person is nationally will just give them more of a specific idea.”

 

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