An Act Relative to Background Checks, Chapter 459 of the Acts of 2012, as amended by Chapter 77 of the Acts of 2013, requires national background checks for all private and public school employees, contractors, transportation providers, vendors and certain volunteers (those designated by schools), as well as for employees of early education centers licensed by the Department of Early Education and Care.  It can apply to employees of summer and after-school programs who have contracts with schools and EEC. In enacting this law, which is designed to ensure the safety of children in schools, Massachusetts has followed the lead of the other 49 states.

The Statewide Applicant Fingerprint Identification Services (or SAFIS) program has contracted with a fingerprinting vendor (MorphoTrust USA) to set up locations throughout the state where applicants and those already employed prior to the law’s enactment can have their fingerprints electronically captured. The vendor sends the captured fingerprints to the state police and to the FBI for a background check. (The vendor does not retain the fingerprints.)


The FBI will check the fingerprints against fingerprint records submitted in connection with arrests all across the country. The state police check only covers Massachusetts events. Since the “hits” in the FBI search come from many different sources, the crime definitions and characterizations of how the arrests were resolved are inconsistent.

The state police and the FBI compile the results and send them to the relevant agency: the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) or the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE). (You can learn more about each agencies’ procedures at the links embedded in the previous sentence.) Each agency handles the results differently: EEC will review the results and will determine internally whether the applicant is suitable for employment at the early education center. ESE will send the results to Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), which will redact the results (in accordance with Massachusetts standard policies on CORI check results) and send them on to the school district to which the applicant applied, where the school administration will determine whether the applicant is suitable for employment.

The state police and the FBI will retain the fingerprints for the following specific purposes:

1) the state will begin to participate in a “rap back” service, whereby schools will receive notification of any subsequent criminal activity by their employees;

2) the fingerprints of a lost or endangered person could be checked against the retained fingerprints for purposes of identification;

3) the fingerprints of an unidentified deceased person could be checked against the retained fingerprints for purposes of identification; and

4) the state will check fingerprints left at an unsolved latent crime scene against the retained fingerprints.

There is an elective process for expunging prints from retention when employees end their employment.

You can learn more about the new background checks law through the answers to these Frequently Asked Questions published by the Executive Office of Education.

This session, the legislature also passed An Act Relative to Background Checks, which has been signed into law as Chapter 234 of the Acts of 2014, to require a similar process for applicants and employees of the Department of Developmental Services as a means to protect the agency’s vulnerable clients.

The public school districts’ policies on the fingerprinting of volunteers in Senator Brownsberger’s district are as follows:


In determining whether to conduct discretionary fingerprint-based background checks (i. e. for
volunteers and subcontractors or laborers who might have direct and unmonitored contact with
children), the Watertown Public Schools will consider the following factors:
• the likelihood of direct and unmonitored contact
• the duration of potential contact (e.g. chaperones on overnight field trips)
• the ability of WPS to limit potential for unmonitored contact (e.g. by means of escorting,
physical separation, restrictions on hours of access to school facility).


Belmont Public Schools is in the process of developing its policy on fingerprinting volunteers.


Boston Public Schools does not fingerprint volunteers.

Update provided March 13, 2015: Senator Brownsberger filed legislation in January that would require the following: 1) fingerprints obtained for these background checks must be be expunged from state records after the person ends his or her employment or service requiring the background check; and 2) applicants subject to such background checks have to be given information about how and by whom their fingerprints will be retained. You can find a copy of the bill here: An Act relative to the retention of fingerprints.

Anne Johnson Landry
Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger

Published by Anne Johnson Landry

Anne works as Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor to Senator Brownsberger.

35 replies on “Implementation of New Background Check Law”

  1. If you are not a CRIMINAL, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT. IF YOU HAVE been arrested but not convicted of any crime, I believe that record stays in the courts for 15 years anyway. If you then commit a crime, it makes it easier to be captured/arrested. Isn’t that a good thing? What’s the problem?

  2. This is quite pertinent, in fact I’m just now resting after a 6-mile walk to and from the closest bus stop for the Hingham location (the 222 out of Quincy Ctr), which is the only site with openings as soon as possible.

    I understand at some levels how this might help prevent horrible things happening to children by individuals with a record of such abuse, but at the same time, the law enforcement agencies have a spotty record regarding confidentiality, proper handling of sensitive materials, and just plain getting things mixed up.

    And part of me feels as if the imposition on those of us without any record is unjust. Of what use is a CORI check, if they’re going to do this as well?

    And while the folks at the Hingham site were very nice, the fact that it’s not very convenient for those of us who don’t own cars makes it a huge imposition.

    The closest locations besides Hingham were Dedham and Dorchester, neither of which was any better for MBTA service in a location I’d go to willingly.

    With so many people in the central Boston/Arlington/Cambridge/Somerville/Watertown/Medford/Malden areas, you would think they’d at least put in a trailer on a school parking lot somewhere more central.

    Mine’s done, and since the job requires it, fine, but maybe as time goes on they’ll either become less terrorized about needing “security” for every little thing or think of a few ways to make it more convenient.

    And the whole “cave into terror-think” bugs me as well. If they scare you, they own you. People with small amounts of power are the most dangerous…and putting such info into their hands may well not end well.

    Best–DLa Rue

  3. As with most of the stuff we have been getting into since 9/11, it all comes with the best of intentions, but the unintended consequences, which it seems in this case is due to policies of the Federal Government, not the State Government, are increasingly bad. In this case retention of prints seems a bad idea. If the finger print does NOT show the person has any record of a crime, then those prints should be destroyed once the record is certified that this is what was the case on hiring and checking. If subsequently that person commits a crime, well it would be the same situation as with anyone else. Investigators would simply have to further investigate as they do with all others not fingerprinted previously.

    1. I agree — the NSA stuff is scary. I’m personally more worried about the government holding lots of information about what people do and think than I am about holding basic identity markers. But I guess one can lead to the other.

  4. Will people who decide to let a gun license (FID or LTC) lapse also be allowed to have their finger prints expunged? If not, why?

    1. There’s no expunging from the FBI database. Once a fingerprint is in, for the right of wrong reason, it stays in.

      This is fine when law enforcement looks up fingerprints in this database, because there are plenty of checks and balances in the court system before conviction.

      But to use this database part of an employment process, in the public schools, no less – we’re not talking about police or military or secret services hiring… That’s what makes this so concerning.

      All an employer has to do, to reject an applicant, is to say “we’ve found someone else better fit for the job”. When candidate A has a murky record (but not proved to be bad, beyond reasonable doubt), and candidate B has no record, guess which of the two candidates will be offered the job?

  5. I would look into the the statistics on “false positives” (when these can be determined). Allowing the FBI and police to add innocent fingerprints to their 4) search increases the probability they will misidentify a perpetrator, if such things occur unacceptably frequently.

  6. I am strongly opposed to allowing the FBI or any police agency to retain the fingerprint records of individuals required to submit them as a condition on employment — or to retain the fingerprint (or DNA samples) of any individuals not convicted of a crime. If these are used in subsequent police investigations, I think their use violates a person’s rights against self-incrimination. Moreover, errors are bound to occur.
    It also seems as though a candidate for employment could be denied a job on the basis of such a search without being given information about what “conviction, non-conviction,” etc. was considered a bar. This means the candidate would have no opportunity to contest an error. We have seen how unreliable the “no-fly” list, credit bureau scores, and so forth are.
    It is reasonable to keep convicted pedophiles out of schools, but the reach of this statute seems much too broad.
    (I’m not sure what a “non-conviction” is — could it be the result of dropped charges after an arrest or a finding of non-guilty? If so, why should these be reportable?)

    1. Non-convictions aren’t reportable in all circumstances. However, many violent crimes never make it to conviction because witnesses recant, especially in domestic cases. For sensitive positions, there is a reason to know about non-convictions — they just have to be interpreted fairly.

      I agree it’s a hugely difficult issue.

  7. I was in the service. I was fingerprinted. I applied for a Massachusetts weapons permit. I was fingerprinted. What is the big deal about being fingerprinted?

  8. I am more upset of the cost. The state wanted this and should have paid the $50 for teachers and administrators and $35 for others connected to the system.
    I think there will be abuse. Always happens even if unintended.
    Bad idea.

    Do state senators and state reps have to be fingerprinted and pay out to their pocket?

    1. I understand your frustration. It seems like a take back — it’s cost that could have been allocated many different ways.

      In some respects, teachers have higher responsibilities than legislators, since they directly take care of children — that’s the reason for imposing the requirement. But no, we aren’t fingerprinted — we do have our picture posted everywhere though. 😉

  9. Will, I am very concerned by this requirement to proactively fingerprint teachers. Have you read this Wall St Journal article?

    “As Arrest Records Rise, Americans Find Consequences Can Last a Lifetime”

    In that article, the case of Barbara Ann Finn is described – she is a black woman who was denied a school cafeteria job after her FBI records came across a murky 1960s arrest. The schools won’t say specifically why she was denied the job.

    In practice, in situations such as that of Barbara Ann Finn, given the confidentiality of job interviews, and the fact that employment is at the discretion of the school administrators – it will be impossible to tell whether schools indeed violate the civil rights of the job applicant.

    This policy of universal fingerprinting was a bad idea, not to mention it is demeaning to teachers. I would respectfully suggest this policy ought to be reconsidered before, not after abuses start happening as a result of it.

    1. Thanks, Andre. Actually, MA was among the last state’s in the country to adopt this policy. Hard to turn around outright. But we do need to be vigilant about how it is implemented — how long records are retained and under what circumstances they are disclosed.

      1. The Lowell Sun reported that “the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts raised some issues with the practice regarding a person’s privacy. . .

        Chris Ott, an ACLU spokesman, said employees should be concerned about what happens with their prints, how long they will be stored, and how securely they will be kept. Ott said modern technology is moving toward the use of fingerprints for accessing sensitive information.

        ‘Every few years, it seems like there’s more and more technology headed this way,” he said. “We shouldn’t treat people fingerprints lightly.'”

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