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