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Archive for Tuesday, March 11, 2014

State board advances draft fingerprinting regulations

March 11, 2014

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Contact Journal-World education reporter Elliot Hughes: ehughes@ljworld.com

— The Kansas State Board of Education voted today to take the next step toward adopting new regulations that would eventually require all teachers and administrators to submit fingerprints and undergo background checks as a condition of holding a state license.

Today's vote means the draft regulations will be submitted for review to the Kansas Department of Administration and the Kansas Attorney General's office. That's a routine procedure to make sure they don't conflict with existing state laws, and that the State Board of Education has the legal authority to adopt the proposed rules.

Since 2005, the state has required all new teachers to submit fingerprints. But that rule does not apply to the estimated 35,000 educators currently practicing who were already licensed when that rule went into effect.

The new rule would require those educators to submit fingerprints and pay a $50 processing fee in order to renew their licenses.

"This is about a systematic process for assuring that nothing is slipping through the cracks," said board chairwoman Jana Shaver, R-Independence. "I feel it's very important to act on it at this time."

The state board considered a similar proposal four years ago, but it failed amid opposition from many teachers and the Kansas National Education Association.

Since then, however, the board has had to revoke the licenses of several teachers in Kansas after learning they had recently been convicted of serious offenses, including some convicted of having illegal sexual relations with their students.

But the real concern, board members have said, is that the board can only act on cases of which it is aware. Many more may have escaped the Department of Education's notice, officials have said, because many prosecutors do not report those charges or convictions to the state.

Under the proposed new program, each person submitting fingerprints would also be enrolled in the federal "Rap Back" program, an FBI program that automatically notifies the agency whenever there is a match between the fingerprint card and the fingerprints of someone who is arrested or charged with certain offenses.

Meanwhile, a bill is pending in the Kansas Legislature that would require the state board to do essentially the same thing. But Senate Bill 335 would also require each district to adopt a drug screening program to test employees when there is probable cause to suspect an employee is using illegal drugs.

Scott Gordon, an attorney for the agency, said if the draft regulations clear their reviews, the next steps will be to hold a public hearing and submit them for review by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Rules and Regulations.

Assuming there are no major changes to the regulations, he said the board could take final action to adopt them within 90 to 120 days.

They would then go into effect immediately upon adoption.

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