Utah bill would eliminate teacher fingerprint requirement

Monday , February 16, 2015 - 12:03 PM

Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY – A House committee gave its stamp of approval to a bill that would end the requirement that public school teachers submit fingerprints for a criminal background check every five years.

“This bill is designed to help teachers,” Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, said in the House Education Committee before the committee passed out the bill on a 10-0 vote.

Handy, HB124’s sponsor, said, “We have this problem where teachers and licensed employees have to get fingerprinted every five years. Teachers have to take a half day, use $50 out of pocket to go get fingerprinted, again.” Handy said. “We want to remove the redundancy.”

The technology for keeping a fingerprint database up to date did not exist last year. However, now the FBI and BCI formed a new eight-state database for permanent fingerprint records known as a “Rap Back System.”

Alice Moffat, the division director at the Bureau of Criminal Identification, explained the “Rap Back System” as a “perpetual background check that is being run all the time. When an individual is involved in a crime, their fingerprints are run against the FBI’s database. The FBI informs the BCI and we in turn notify the specific district the individual is employed by.”

Rodney Rose, the Davis School District human resource associate director, addressed concerns that the bill may allow for educator background checks to lose validity.

“(The bill) provides the means to give us the information we need if our employees are engaged in some sort of criminal activity. It is more comprehensive than the current code which has proven to be problematic in some cases,” said Rose.

Rose explained the current code ensures the Bureau of Criminal Identification notify the school district if an employee is involved in violent crimes, drug crimes or sexual abuse crimes. However, the current code does not notify school districts if an employee is involved in theft.

“This bill will free the BCI up to forward all criminal activity by licensed and non-licensed employees to the school district. It will now notify the district of all crimes at the time of the incident,” Rose said.

Handy argues the amendments will not decrease the effectiveness of education background checks.

“No one wants to in anyway, take away from or weaken the protections we have on those individuals who are teaching our children,” Handy said. “We want these protections in place clearly.”

The new background check process will have a higher initial cost. “However the bill will save cost in the long run as there are no follow up costs,” said Rose.

Handy picked up the bill after having a discussion with Bryan Bowles, Davis School District’s superintendent, about complaints he had with current law and policies. Handy narrowed the issues to a list with 41 items.

“One of the things they brought up was the issue with licensed teachers having to resubmit to be fingerprinted every five years,” said Handy.

“There is no real opposition, everyone wants this,” Handy said. “The only hold back was with the UEA with a concern on the interpretation of the bill, not the suggested changes.”

The UEA wanted to ensure the reports still remain private. They did not want any changes in who in the district gets the background check reports.

Handy stated the bill did not change exposure of the reports. The bill only changes the information in the reports.

“The information is very private, unless the employee is convicted and there is a police report or news piece,” said Handy.

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