Editorial: An issue with fingerprinting

Improving school safety — no one can really argue against the idea of making our children safer. But the devil can be in the details.

That’s how we look at how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is handling the implementation of the law requiring that all teachers and school employees be fingerprinted as part of national criminal background checks.

The good part is that background checks of this nature are finally being done. As it turns out, Massachusetts was the last state to require the fingerprinting of all school employees and early childhood center employees as another step in keeping children safe from people who have a criminal record.

“Of course, first and foremost, we want to ensure our students are getting to school safely and are in the safe hands of teachers and support staff who have direct and unmonitored contact with the children,” said Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Lauren Greene earlier this year. “We think the vast majority of educators will be in the clear with this. We just want to have additional supports in place to make sure the student is being placed in a safe environment every single day.”

That makes sense, since before this law was signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in January 2013, Massachusetts had only required schools to conduct CORI background checks on their employees. And while CORI checks undoubtedly weeded out some individuals, the new system will run the fingerprints through the FBI’s national database and potentially catch those who change identities.

What we do have a problem with, however, is that the teachers and others are being forced to foot the bill for the fingerprinting. All certified teachers pay $55 to a contractor to have their fingerprints taken while other school staff pay $35. Some area school districts are reimbursing their employees, but others are not.

We recognize that for some in a school system, the fee is more an inconvenience than a significant hit on the paycheck. But for others, especially those not making much, the cost can come close to a day’s pay.

Some teachers union officials — and we agree — are calling this yet another unfunded state mandate. We think the Legislature should address this unfair requirement.

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