Topeka The Kansas State Department of Education is still drafting new regulations that would require all teachers to submit fingerprints and undergo extensive background checks as a condition for keeping their licenses, but officials say those plans are already raising concerns among teachers in some districts.
"Teachers and some teachers unions have gotten upset," said Scott Gordon, assistant general counsel for the agency, who is drafting those proposed regulations.
Gordon updated the State Board of Education today on the progress being made in coming up with the new requirements.
One of the concerns, Gordon said, is that some districts require fingerprint checks as a condition of employment. However, those fingerprints cannot be transferred to the state to be used for licensing requirements, Gordon told the state board, because legally they may only be used by the school districts for their background checks.
If the Department of Education wants to conduct its own check, he said, state law requires a separate fingerprint card to be submitted to the agency.
That means some teachers may have to pay multiple times to submit multiple sets of fingerprints — at $50 each, often at their own expense — all basically for the same purpose.
Officials from the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Lawrence school district requires name-based criminal background checks on all new employees who have lived continuously in Kansas for the past 10 years, according to district spokeswoman Julie Boyle. All other new teachers in the district are required to submit fingerprints through the Lawrence Police Department, although the district pays the cost of those background checks.
The State Board of Education called for the new rules in September as part of an effort to strengthen enforcement of state laws and regulations that prohibit anyone found to have committed certain crimes from receiving or renewing a teaching license.
The previous month, the state board voted to revoke the licenses of several individuals who'd been found to have committed various crimes, including some who engaged in illegal sexual activity with their students.
Since 2002, the state has required all new teachers applying for their initial license to submit fingerprints and undergo an extensive criminal background check. But there are an estimated 35,000 other teachers in Kansas who already have licenses who have never undergone those checks by the state.
One Kansas statute prohibits the state board from granting or renewing a license to anyone who has been convicted of or entered a diversion agreement for various crimes, including sex offenses, violent crimes or drug-related offenses.
A separate Department of Education regulation goes even further, allowing the board to suspend or revoke a license for a much wider range of offenses, including misdemeanor drug offenses. It also includes people who have been fired or disciplined by a school district for such offenses, even if no criminal charge is ever filed.
The statute also requires county and district attorneys to report to the department the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of anyone in their jurisdiction "who has been determined to have committed any offense or act specified" in the act.
But Department of Education officials have said very few local prosecutors comply with that part of the statute. And even if they did, Gordon said, it would pose an administrative burden for agency officials to cross-check all those names against the database of licensed teachers.
Part of the upcoming regulation, he said, will be a provision to enroll in the FBI's "Rap Back" program, which would automatically notify the agency whenever someone whose fingerprints are on file is subsequently arrested or charged with certain offenses.
Gordon said he expects to present the draft regulation to the state board "within the next couple of months."
After that, the draft would be submitted to the Kansas Attorney General's office for review. The state board would then have to open a public comment period and schedule a public hearing before voting to enact the regulation.