Sunday, June 15, 2008

Teach the children well

Okay, I don't have a problem with fingerprinting the staff. I have a problem with what they may do with the information.

If a teacher or staff memeber has a serious criminal history or sexual criminal history then they probably need to get rid of them.

1. What if it is a DWI or a shoplifting theft from when they were young?

2. What if they never mentioned the arrest history on their application?

3. What if they received the DWI or theft after they were employed?

Those are more important questions that need to be addressed.

2 districts stalling on fingerprint discoveries
Eva Ruth Moravec: Express-News

The two largest school districts in Bexar County are stalling in making public the full results of new fingerprint checks of their employees even as another school district's records show hundreds of employees have been charged with criminal offenses in the past.

Northside, North East and San Antonio independent school districts have completed fingerprinting 16,000 employees under a new law that beefs up background screening to keep children safe.
Only San Antonio has released the number and type of offenses.

The fingerprinting of 4,457 SAISD employees turned up 470 criminal charges, including enticing a child, selling alcohol to a minor, prostitution, larceny and aggravated assault. A charge doesn't always result in conviction, and the information the district released doesn't specify which did.

It's also unknown from the district the number of employees charged with one or more offenses.
Some of the offenses are ones the district is discovering for the first time; others the district knew about from previous, less-extensive background checks done when employees were first hired.

SAISD spokeswoman Carmen Vásquez-González said district officials will review each charge on a case-by-case basis.
“For example, a charge for possession of marijuana while in college probably doesn't matter today, and a DWI charge, if you're a teacher and were not driving a district vehicle would be OK,” she said.

Someone convicted of some offenses — including those that require registration as a sex offender and certain felonies — would automatically be fired or precluded from being hired.

The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires school districts by 2011 to fingerprint all teachers, administrators, substitute teachers and most other employees. That allows the districts to learn employees' nationwide records, where before it was only Texas or local charges. Before the law, only teachers certified since 2003 had to submit to such an extensive background review.

The Department of Public Safety contracted Integrated Biometric Technology to fingerprint employees in phases by district, and once complete, the DPS searches state and national crime databases for charges on employees' records. DPS then gives school districts access to a secure online database where they can view employees' records.

SAISD took the information off the database and created an internal list of employees' positions and their charges — but not their names — and released the list to the San Antonio Express-News.

Northside and North East have not released any information on the outcome of their background checks, and both districts have asked the Texas attorney general's office for an opinion on whether they must do so.

North East's letter states, “School districts are not permitted to disclose criminal history information to the public.”

“There's a law on the books that protects criminal records,” said North East ISD spokeswoman Deb Caldwell. “We're not trying to dodge the facts or withhold information, we're just trying to comply with the law.”

Even though Northside also sought an opinion, the school district's attorney, Laura Rodriguez,

said she may release partial results soon.
“I'm reviewing if there is responsive information that we can release,” Rodriguez said.

The AG has issued one opinion, sought by the Austin Independent School District, that a district may not withhold all results of criminal background searches from the public. The Austin district is seeking a clarification.

Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District also completed the screening process and found 67 charges filed among 829 employees who were fingerprinted, said district spokeswoman Rebecca Villarreal.

But, she said, district officials don't believe they're required to release specifics on the charges because they did not compile an internal list.
“SAISD is creating documents that they're not required to create,” Villarreal said. “We did not do that and we're not planning on doing that.”

The Texas Classroom Teachers Association, an Austin-based group that represents public school teachers, is asking for clarification on the attorney general's opinion submitted to Austin ISD to ensure the law is applied consistently.

“The issue of confidentiality of criminal history records obtained as a result of the background checks mandated by Senate Bill 9 is one that will impact every school district in the state,” said Kristina Tirloni, TCTA spokeswoman.

TCTA submitted a letter to the attorney general, in which it cites dialogue that explains the legislative intent behind the law. During the debate about the bill, when asked by a Texas House colleague whether the fingerprinting results would be subject to open records requests, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who co-sponsored the bill, replied:

“My understanding is that it would be treated just like our current personnel records so it would be limited, and there are privacy issues to keep it from being discovered under open records request.”

Districts receive a three-week notice before they must start fingerprinting employees. Area districts including Fort Sam Houston, Lackland, Medina Valley, Randolph Field and Somerset have all received notice and should start the process soon.