Association of Texas Professional Educators
   

Fingerprinting Requirements for Educators

In 2007, the Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 9 relating to school safety issues. SB 9 requires practically all public and charter school employees and even some contractors and school volunteers to undergo criminal background checks. Some individuals are subject only to a search of state criminal records, while others must submit to a national criminal history review conducted by the FBI. Fingerprints are required for the FBI’s national criminal history review. Searches of state criminal records are name-based and do not require fingerprints.

The author of SB 9 was Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano), who chairs the Senate Education Committee. From the start of the 2007 legislative session, ATPE was informed that SB 9 was Sen. Shapiro's top priority for the session and that the bill was strongly supported by the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate. With so much adamant support from state leaders, it was clear some sort of fingerprinting law would be enacted in 2007.

The original version of SB 9 presented a lot of problems for educators, and when it was heard in the Senate committee, ATPE and other teacher groups testified at length about needed changes. In response to our efforts, Shapiro instructed her staff to meet with us to work on new language. We succeeded in getting some very positive changes made on the Senate side and even more positive changes on the House side when the bill was heard there. Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) sponsored the bill on the House side.

Most importantly, ATPE fought to ensure that the state would not force existing teachers to pay to have their fingerprints taken. Legislative leaders promised us repeatedly that the state would pick up the tab for this. But in the final hours of the 2007 legislative session, lawmakers somehow failed to include the fingerprint funding in the budget bill. We were told that the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker had the authority to appropriate funds after the session to cover this, and we made pleas through the media for them to do so. We also immediately began meeting with senior officials of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) about this, and within a few weeks, the governor ordered TEA to use state funds to cover the cost of fingerprinting the existing teachers.

ATPE continued to meet with agency staff throughout the summer and fall of 2008 as TEA prepared for implementation of the bill. When the formal rulemaking process began, we also testified about the new law on numerous occasions before the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and the State Board of Education (SBOE). Throughout the history of this law, we have worked at every possible level to serve the best interests of our members and promote safer schools at the same time.

In addition to the fingerprinting requirements, SB 9 contains some other provisions relating to educators. The law restricts the entry of registered sex offenders onto school premises. It sets forth criteria that will make an individual ineligible for employment in a school setting. It improves communication between education officials and Child Protective Services (CPS) in child abuse investigations. SB 9 also included an ATPE-requested amendment that protects the confidentiality of educators’ certification exam scores.

Many ATPE members wonder why educators have to be fingerprinted when most of them have no criminal history whatsoever. Some members have said that simply being required to undergo fingerprinting makes them feel like criminals. Though it might seem intrusive or inconvenient, the fingerprinting law does not criminalize educators and should not make you feel as though you've done something wrong. Many other professionals, including doctors, lawyers, nurses, day care workers and even realtors are required to be fingerprinted. Furthermore, new applicants for educator certification have been required to undergo fingerprinting since 2003, so fingerprinting teachers is not a new phenomenon in Texas. Likewise, most other states are beginning to require educators to be fingerprinted.

It’s important to remember that many employers routinely conduct background checks on their potential employees. You’ve probably filled out job applications where you’ve been asked to consent to a background check as a condition of your application for the job. School districts, especially, have been doing background checks on their employees for years; some have even required fingerprints. Even if you’ve never been fingerprinted before, chances are that you’ve already been through a criminal background check as a school employee.

Employers, including most school districts, have typically relied on name-based searches rather than fingerprints simply because of cost. The problem with name-based background checks is that they are limited in scope. They only turn up records of criminal offenses that occurred in Texas. Fingerprinting, on the other hand, is the only method that allows an entity to search criminal records in all 50 states. Thus, the only real difference between name-based searches and fingerprint-based searches is the scope of the search.

Without the use of fingerprints for a national background check, a person convicted of a serious or violent offense in another state could potentially move to Texas and be hired to work in a public school because SBEC and school districts would have no way of finding out about his criminal record outside of Texas. A national criminal history search protects not only the safety of students but also the safety of all the other staff like yourself who might otherwise end up unknowingly working side-by-side with a dangerous criminal right there in your own school. For this reason, SB 9 benefits students and staff alike by offering this additional protection for their safety while they are at school.

We know that many of our members are the backbone of their communities and are exemplary moral models. ATPE recognized from the beginning of the discussions about SB 9 that some of our members would be offended by the fingerprinting requirement. However, we also know that these same members value school safety and the safety of students, and we hope they will understand the necessity of extreme measures in the world in which we live today

To learn more about fingerprinting visit ATPE's Fingerprinting Resource Center.

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