Mohawk mulls new background checks

BUCKLAND — As a new state law kicks in, requiring all Massachusetts public and private schools to get fingerprints and federal Criminal History Record Information for school employees, the Mohawk School Committee is developing a policy on who has access to such information, how to store it and when such confidential information can be destroyed.

Massachusetts was the only state not running national criminal history checks of K-12 school employees before the new law was enacted in January. With the law’s passage, all new employees must be fingerprinted and checked, while existing employees have until the 2016-17 school year to comply. This new requirement now gives school systems access to any criminal offenses in the federal data base — including criminal information from other states. Up until now, school systems only had access to information about criminal offenses within Massachusetts through CORI, Criminal Offender Records Information.

The new law says individuals are to pay the administrative costs for their own fingerprinting and records search, which is $55 for licensed teachers and school specialists, and $35 for other school employees. While it doesn’t offer any money for this service, school districts have the option of paying these fees for the employee.

The fee covers the participation of several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. The fingerprints must be submitted to the FBI, which charges a fee for the reports. Other agencies involved include the state Office of Public Safety and Security, the state Department of Criminal Justice Information Services and the State Police.

Volunteers at schools are still required to submit to state CORI background checks — which do not require fingerprinting — but the decision to include volunteers in the CHRI federal background checks will be left to each school system.

The law says: “A volunteer who may have direct and unmonitored contact with children may be asked to submit their fingerprints for the state and national checks if doing so is a requirement of the school or district.”

Mohawk’s proposed background checks policy says employees would pay their own costs; however, school committee members asked the superintendent to look into the total costs involved.

If someone has a criminal offense, his or her suitability to be hired would take into consideration the nature of the crime, the person’s age at the time of the offense, conviction and/or completion of a sentence, and other information deemed relevant by the district. If the person is deemed “unsuitable,” he or she must be given a copy of the CHRI report used to make that decision.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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