Governor Deval Patrick yesterday signed H4307, "An Act Relative to Background Checks." This bill closes an existing criminal history background checks loophole by authorizing the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and school districts to conduct fingerprint-supported national criminal history background checks on all teachers, school employees and early education providers in Massachusetts.
Prior to this law, school districts and early education providers were allowed only to conduct name-based Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks covering criminal history record information for crimes committed in Massachusetts. These CORI checks did not include any criminal history record information for crimes committed outside the Commonwealth.
"Every child in Massachusetts should be able to go to school knowing that they have a safe and secure space to learn and grow," said Education Secretary Paul Reville. "I want to thank Chair Peisch and all of our partners in the Legislature for their work on this important bill that will help us better protect both children and adults in schools and early education and care settings across the Commonwealth."
This bill not only requires school districts to obtain fingerprint-supported state and national criminal history record information for school employees, bus drivers, and subcontractors commissioned by the district to perform work on school grounds, but also gives investigators at EEC and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) access to use the results of state and federal criminal record checks in connection with licensure issues and investigations of alleged misconduct by educators. The bill requires school districts, private schools, and special education school programs that employ licensed educators to share with ESE any information, including the results of state and national criminal history record checks, which might be relevant to ESE's investigation of alleged misconduct by a license holder or applicant. It also requires that all individuals who hold an EEC program license, EEC teacher qualifications, current and prospective employees working in an EEC-licensed or approved program, family child care providers, their household members (age 15 or older), persons regularly on the premises of a family child care home, and those individuals in an EEC-licensed or approved program who have the potential for unsupervised contact with children to undergo a national criminal history record check.
"This legislation adds an enhancement to what schools already do in conducting state CORI checks on all employees at least every three years by creating a one-time national criminal database check for all school employees and contractor employees," said Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester.
"This bill supports EEC's efforts to advance reforms in early education and care and out-of-school time program and teacher quality by providing greater access to background information on the educators and other adults in the state's licensed centers," said Department of Early Education and Care Commissioner Sherri Killins. "The safety and well-being of children and youth is of top priority and the information from these checks will help to ensure that our programs provide positive environments and support caring and engaging interactions between adults and children that support their healthy growth and development."
"I believe that this is a common sense, critical piece of legislation," said Representative Alice Peisch. "Massachusetts will now no longer lag behind in this crucial area and the safety of schoolchildren will be further enhanced by implementing a national background check for adults who will be working directly with children."
All newly hired teachers, school employees, bus drivers, subcontractors and early education and care and out-of-school time providers must undergo state and national background checks prior to the start of the 2013-2014 school year. All current employees must undergo national background checks over the next three years, prior to the start of the 2016-2017 school year.