It’s the time of year for new notebooks, sneakers, backpacks, and also new schoolteachers. Most of those new teachers will be subject to background checks. Fingerprint searches have been used for decades to screen new employees in a variety of careers, including nursing, policing, banking, transportation, and education. In the US, employers in these fields often require background checks for “criminal history record information” (CHRI) that help determine whether an individual has a criminal history that would preclude them from employment.
Schools are among the largest consumers of the state and federal background check services. They typically require all prospective school employees and contractors to provide a copy of their CHRI as part of their application. Some school districts help their prospective employees through this process.
Most states have laws that require school employees to be checked for criminal histories, such as New York State’s “Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE)” Law, which became effective in 2000. Employment applicants’ fingerprints must be collected and forwarded to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), who checks state records and also submits to the FBI to check their records. Results are reviewed and returned to the employer.
The New York State Education Department Office of School Personnel and Accountability (OSPRA) processes 50,000 background check requests every year for employment applicants in the state outside New York City. An audit performed back in 2007 found that a large percentage—157 of 469 applicants with outstanding background checks in progress—began work before background check results were returned from DCJS, but the Education Department was unaware that they were outstanding. 30 of these had criminal records, and one of these 30 would not have been permitted to work.
The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) runs the largest school district in the country, with over 1,800 schools, 135,000 full-time employees, and 1.1 million students. NYCDOE does not use OSPRA background check services; rather, their Office of Personnel Investigation is responsible for screening employment candidates and for administrating background checks to DCJS. Instead of sending candidates to external services for checks like the rest of the state, they perform the process themselves internally to control costs and quality.
NYCDOE implemented their system to submit searches to DCJS using Aware’s Biometric Services Platform (BioSP™). There are several advantages. The schools don’t have to leave it to the applicant to find a service, get the reports, and bring them in. They can better monitor the submissions and ensure that the checks are performed properly before the employee begins work. This ensures that faculty and staff can’t get into the schools until they have been properly vetted.