This week, following a 9-1 vote, the Kansas State Board of Eduction supported a policy change that would require more teachers to be fingerprinted. Any educators renewing their teacher’s license may now have their fingerprints checked against the Kansas criminal records database. It is estimated that the policy will apply to 35,000 teachers in the state.
While Kansas has required that applicants for new teaching licenses submit fingerprints since 2002, the law would extend the practice to those renewing their licenses. The law would extend even to those who have never been fingerprinted. In August, board members discussed ways to strengthen existing laws that will help keep convicted felons out of Kansas public schools. They decided to pursue this change in policy.
Although teachers are required to renew their license every five years, the new policy would only apply for the first renewal.
Board members cited protecting students as their primary motivation for the change. Their goal is that state be made aware whenever someone with a criminal record tries to seek or renew a teaching license. While the policy was conceived specifically to target violent offenders and sexual predators, it may affect anyone with a Kansas criminal record who decides to pursue or continue a teaching career.
As it is illegal in Kansas to issues a teaching license to anyone convicted of murder, child abuse, sex crimes and other serious offenses, prosecutors are required to report all felony convictions to the Department of Education so that criminal records can remain on file.
It is not technically illegal for those with a non-violent criminal record or those who have been convicted of misdemeanors to receive a teaching license. The fingerprinting policy would allow the Department of Eduction to access additional information such as whether an applicant was once charged with a serious crime, but ultimately pled to a lesser crime. In those cases, the school board would use its discretion to determine whether or not to renew the applicant’s teaching license.
The school board has also devised a system in which a monthly report will be sent out to county prosecutors to be returned with updates on the criminal records of currently licensed teachers. Although these reports will not be mandatory the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association is encouraging compliance with the new policy.
Teachers renewing their license will be required to pay a one-time fee of $50 for the fingerprinting. Their fingerprints will then be sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation so that they may preform a full background check. An annual fee will also be issued to all licensed teachers. This will be used to check on the status of all licensed teachers’ criminal records so that the school board may be made aware of any new convictions.
Teachers who have prior convictions may still petition the courts to have their records expunged. In this case, past convictions would not show up in a background check.
The new policy will be finalized by the Board of Education and come into effect sometime later this year.