Fingerprints Now Required For Teacher Certification

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Schools are enhancing safety another degree with a new law that went into effect this month, requiring teachers and administrators to submit their fingerprints for a background check before renewing their certificates.

"No single incident prompted this new legislation," Laura Penny, spokesperson for the State Board of Education, said. "It was recognized that the current system had loopholes."

Prior to 1990, teachers were not fingerprinted under state law. In 1998, legislation instructed that all new teachers be fingerprinted to obtain a Class 1 or Class 2 clearance card, authorizing them to teach.

"Class 1 refers to someone who has a squeaky clean record, so to speak," Penny said, "and Class 2 refers to a person who might have something minor like a misdemeanor charge on their record."

The root of the law was established when a previous injunction grandfathered teachers who were certified before the 1998 law enactment.

"Ultimately, more than 160 teachers, administrators and substitutes will be affected by the new law in the Payson Unified School District," superintendent Herb Weisenfell said.

Background checks will be performed at least every time a certificate is renewed in the Payson schools. This ensures that a sporadic investigation will be done on each certified staff member, at most every six years, Weisenfell said.

The new law will only encompass teachers and administrators. Other school personnel counselors and auxiliary staff do not fall under this ruling.

"Everybody who works at a school, including counselors and other non-certified staff, are fingerprinted upon hiring. But the background check done on certified instructors is much more comprehensive, including a national FBI check," Penny said. "The records of non-certified staff are reviewed by the local police department and only upon initial employment."

Striving to inform all teachers and administrators of the change, the State Board of Education has asked the human resource department in each district to notify all personnel.

"With any luck, this law will be invisible to the public because we are not expecting a big batch (of teachers) in the mix with shady backgrounds," Penny said. "Most teachers are honest, upstanding citizens. It will just be an added reassurance for parents."

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