WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – Following Governor Deval L. Patrick’s signing of “An Act Relative to Background Checks” in January 2013, which made Massachusetts the last state in the country to require national criminal background checks for all employees who come in contact with children, such as teachers, aids, and clerks, the Commonwealth’s Department’s of Elementary and Secondary Education and of Early Education and Care announced their intentions to start fingerprinting all public school employees.
The fingerprinting efforts began in March in collaboration with the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, and came after 20 school departments and several day care centers across the state volunteered for a pilot program to iron out any kinks in the system.
“We’re starting with those employees who were just hired in 2013-2014 – they have to do it (get finger printed). We’re sending out packets to a little over 180 new hires,” said Jennifer Willard, human resources director for Westfield Public Schools, stating that these include full-time, part-time, and intermittent employees. “There are over 1,000 employees in the district, and those not hired during the 2013-2014 school year have to get printed by 2016.”
When asked why so much time had passed between Patrick signing the law and the 20 districts running the pilot, Willard said it took awhile for the state to pick a vendor who will collect the prints, which will be sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database. “The pilot was conducted in a few different cities,” she said, adding that a new customer service center for employees to get their prints taken by MorphoTrust USA, the vendor chosen by the state to conduct the printing, has just been placed in Springfield. “Prior to Springfield, they had to go to Pittsfield,” she said. “In most states, independent vendors are authorized by the state to collect the prints.” She said that this is done by the state to keep local police departments from getting bogged down.
The Commonwealth already requires a Criminal Offender Record Information, or CORI, check for school district employees once every three years, but Willard said this new fingerprinting law is for the feds. “CORI checks are just for Massachusetts, and these fingerprints will go through the FBI into a much larger database,” she said.
Willard added that licensed teachers in Westfield, whose average annual salary is listed at $62,658 by the DESE, must pay $55 for their prints, while other school employees, from secretaries and clerical workers to cafeteria workers and custodians, must pay $35.
“There wasn’t a lot of forethought put into this,” said Lori Hovey, president of the Westfield Education Association. “I don’t think there’s anyone who objects to getting their fingers printed, but to make us pay for it? There is no offset in our contract for this.”
Every state in the nation now requires teachers to register their fingerprints, the cost of which varies from $20 to over $100, according to Hovey, and she believes that the $55 Massachusetts will now charge licensed teachers is not only steep, but unnecessary in many cases. “There’s no provision for whether you already have fingerprints on file,” she said, adding that hers are on file with the state since she has a license to carry a firearm. “And when you go to get a new set of prints, you have to travel to get them done.” “There is a vast discrepancy in what they (teachers in Mass.) have to pay and what teachers in other states have to pay, and it’s all at the discretion of the legislature,” she said.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association has been fighting since the legislation was signed to raise the issue over print payment on Beacon Hill.“There aren’t any solutions to this. It’s law, and by making it a condition of employment, they (the legislature) have implemented so many regulations without consulting (the MTA).” “The question was brought up at a meeting over a year ago ‘why is it that criminals get their fingerprints taken for free? Why do teachers have to pay?’” Hovey said.
Media Credit: The Westfield News