BOSTON (AP) -- Massachusetts school districts have started fingerprinting teachers, administrators, bus drivers and other employees for national background checks.
The effort officially began this month in a handful of districts, with all school systems to follow in the coming weeks.
Massachusetts is the last state to fingerprint school employees to more fully search for past criminal activities, education officials said.
"It’s a little overdue," Jeff Wulfson, a deputy commissioner at the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, told The Boston Globe ( http://b.globe.com/1fdko93 ).
The fingerprints will be sent to the FBI, which will run the information through its databases, enabling schools to receive criminal histories from outside Massachusetts and improving the chances of identifying staffers with criminal pasts. Previously, local districts only had access to Massachusetts criminal records.
Teachers’ union officials don’t oppose the fingerprinting, but they do oppose the processing fee of $55 for licensed educators and $35 for other employees.
Teachers are asking the districts to pick up the cost.
"It doesn’t seem like our members should have to pay to prove their innocence," Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman said. The fingerprinting has not started in Boston yet.
Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said his organization opposes efforts to have districts pay the costs.
If districts find any questionable information from the FBI reports, they could move to fire the employee.
The state has set up fingerprinting centers in Beverly, Boston, Bourne and Pittsfield, and plans to open more.
The program was approved by the Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick over a year ago, but the FBI noted the law failed to reference the appropriate federal statutes necessary for the agency to run the background checks, prompting revisions. Patrick signed the changes into law in September.
Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.bostonglobe.com