Public School System in Massachusetts Expanding Background Checks for New Hires

By Michael Klazema on 6/13/2012

After arrests of two city employees for child based crimes, the Newton Public School system in Massachusetts is expanding background checks for new employees to include checking the Sex Offender Registry Information system (SORI), a nationwide database of sex crime convictions. Second grade teacher David Ettlinger was arrested in January and charged with possession of child pornography, in addition to later charges of indecent assault of a child under 14, and posing a child in a state of nudity. The following week Newton library employee Peter Buchanan was arrested on charges of possession and dissemination of child pornography.

In light of these two cases, local parents are calling for tougher rules when it comes to hiring employees that will be working with children. Although background checks were performed on Ettlinger and Buchanan, since neither man had prior child related convictions the tighter procedures being adopted would not have alerted city officials. However, the school superintendent and the mayor have implemented the “Background Investigation Team”, a group of city employees gathered to study the matter of background checks as an “extra precaution.” Heather Richards, Director of Human Resources for the School Department says that her department has revised application forms for those seeking school employment, and includes reference checks.

The Criminal Offender Registry Information system (CORI) is already in use by the city and Newton Public Schools. As referenced in an earlier article, Massachusetts has recently revised laws regarding the use of this database. According to city Director of Human Resources Dolores Hamilton, if a new hire shows “a felony conviction, they are disqualified. If there is an open case, they are disqualified.” However, the use of CORI in Massachusetts only extends to a person’s criminal history within the state.

The Background Investigation Team has suggested using the FBI fingerprinting criminal database to expand the background checks on a national scale. A bill that would allow the state to acquire access to the FBI database and national criminal checks using fingerprints of school employees is currently in front of the Joint Committee on Education in the State House. Once adopted by the state and then city, each check will cost the school district $75. According to Mayor Setti Warren, it’s “critically important” for the legislation to pass. The team is also looking into background check vendors, and Richards says that the contracts would run about $200,000, but if the school district partnered with the city they could get a discounted rate.

When it comes to hiring employees that will be working with children, using proper background checks is even more important. Why rely on just one or two databases that only check one state? A reputable background check company like has access to countless criminal record sources nationwide, and provides several options for instant results that cost far less than $75 per check. Their US Offender OneSEARCH combs Sex Offender Registry information from 49 states (plus Washington D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico) with photos, and includes information contained in the US OneSEARCH. Even more comprehensive, the US OneSEARCH provides information from more than 355 million criminal records from counties, Department of Corrections (DOC), Administration of Courts (AOC) and State Sex Offender Registries covering 49 states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam. Cities looking to implement multi-jurisdictional background screening programs that look further than their own state could achieve significant cost savings vs. the previous stated per record check cost if they partner with


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