Fingerprints, criminal histories and applying for certification

What you need to know about educator background checks

Fingerprinting of educator certification applicants and school employees is required by legislation passed in 2007. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) conducts criminal background checks with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the FBI to determine whether applicants or district/charter school personnel have any criminal activity in their background that would make their employment by a district or charter school illegal or inappropriate.

The following are the most frequent questions educators have about these background checks: 

  • Certified educators.
  • Substitutes and paraprofessionals, whether or not they are certified.
  • All non-certified employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2008.
  • Charter school teachers and others who would be required to hold certification if they worked for a school district.
  • Independent contractors hired after Jan. 1, 2008, who have direct contract with children.
  • Noncertified employees hired before Jan. 1, 2008. (However, they must be fingerprinted if they become employed by a new district.)
  • Independent contractors hired before Jan. 1, 2008. (However, they must be fingerprinted if they become employed by a new district.)
  • Student teachers. (They must be fingerprinted when applying for certification.)
  • Volunteers (other than parents and guardians, individuals accompanied by a district employee while on campus, or individuals volunteering for an individual event).
  • Certified educators are fingerprinted when applying to SBEC for an initial certificate or new certification to be added to current certification, or when applying to reinstate a certificate that has been suspended.
  • All school district staff, certified or not, are fingerprinted before beginning the first day of employment with a new school district. 
Nearly all fingerprinting is being done digitally by a private vendor, L-1 Identity Solutions, now known by the name MorphoTrust USA, which has contracted with DPS. MorphoTrust has numerous locations throughout the state; locations are listed on the TEA website.

Educators located out of state or out of the country who do not have access to the digital process may still submit traditional ink-rolled fingerprints on cards provided by SBEC. 
National criminal history information on all educators will be maintained by the DPS in a state database or clearinghouse. TEA officials will review the information and then notify districts whether an individual is employable under the law. State law prohibits individuals who have been convicted of certain serious offenses from being employed in public schools. Individuals who are found to be ineligible for school employment will receive a notice from TEA.

Only certain authorized school district personnel will be able to view any criminal history information that turns up on that particular district’s current employees, as well as applicants for jobs in the district.

If an educator who is already in the database gets arrested, the files will be updated, and notices will be sent to SBEC and to the school district or charter school in which the educator is employed.

Educators should be aware that criminal activity revealed through a background check could result in either a denial of an application for certification or potential SBEC disciplinary proceedings to sanction existing certification. Of course, adverse employment action might also result, either directly because of the uncovered criminal history or indirectly because of the history’s effect on the educator’s certification.
As described above, complying with the fingerprinting mandate is required by state law for most district staff members. State law prohibits school districts and charter schools from employing an individual who must be fingerprinted but who has not been fingerprinted. 
When your digital fingerprints are taken, MorphoTrust will provide you with a receipt. Educators are encouraged to keep their receipts and to provide a copy to their school districts. The receipt proves that you have submitted your fingerprints, but it does not denote completion of the entire background check process, nor does it signify that you have a clean record with no criminal history.

At the present time, TEA does not have the means to send you a confirmation that your fingerprints have been received and that your background check has been processed. The agency hopes to implement a procedure in the future that would allow educators’ virtual certificates to reflect successful completion of the fingerprinting process. 
Yes. Only fingerprints taken specifically for purposes of the educators’ database are acceptable. However, once you’ve been fingerprinted through the TEA/SBEC system, you won’t have to be fingerprinted again in order to be employed in a school setting. 
Once you’ve been fingerprinted and entered into the state educators’ database, you do not have to be fingerprinted again. If you leave your school district, the district will no longer have access to your criminal history records.

If you are a non-certified employee covered by the grandfather clause for staff hired before Jan. 1, 2008, you will have to be fingerprinted only if you move to another school district. 
ATPE-initiated legislation from 2009 clarifies that a school employee may ask his employer for a copy of the criminal history record information relating to that employee. This law also permits the school district to charge the employee a copying charge not to exceed the actual cost of duplicating the document(s).

The legal information provided on this website is for general purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for individual legal advice or the provision of legal services. Accessing this information does not create an attorney-client relationship. Individual legal situations vary greatly and readers should consult directly with an attorney. Eligible ATPE members should contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department using our online contact form