This summer, the Department of Education in New York City launched a fingerprint background check initiative designed to keep pre-kindergarten education centers safe. And based on early figures released by city officials and reported by CapitalNewYork.com, the new program is already getting favorable results.
Per the new background check initiative, the NYC Department of Education ran fingerprint screenings of every new employee of every pre-K educational program in the city. The background checks, in other words, did not just relate to instructors or to people who will be working directly with children but to everyone employed by these educational centers.
To run the checks, the city collected fingerprints of new pre-K employees and ran them through numerous criminal and sex offender databases, both at the state and national FBI level. All told, the Department of Education collected fingerprints for some 3,000 employees over the summer in preparation for the new school year. The majority of those prospective employees, 2,755 people to be exact, were cleared for employment in pre-K educational settings.
The remainder, however, about 245 applicants, have been rejected from working in pre-K centers because they have criminal records. Precisely what criteria New York City's Department of Education used to reject these employees is not currently clear. Does the mere existence of a criminal record disqualify an applicant from working in one of the city's pre-K education centers, or has the Department of Education considered each case individually and only rejected the applicants who pose an obvious risk to the children they would be hired to educate and keep safe?
Either way, it's clear that the new Department of Education system is getting results. Without background checks, how many of the rejected criminal applicants would have slipped through the cracks?
Of course, the system is not perfect. The city has opted, for now at least, not to re-screen all existing pre-K workers, of which there are thousands. That means that there could still be closet offenders working with pre-K students in centers throughout the city. However, the Department of Education did audit each pre-K center prior to launching the fingerprint background check policy, partially to make sure that background checks had been run on the employees at each location. Those employees won't have been checked at the FBI level, but at least they have undergone some form of background checks.
It isn't entirely surprising that the Department of Education has opted to hold off on re-screening old workers, at least for the time being. The department's headquarters in Brooklyn has been incredibly busy lately, running fingerprint background checks on prospective pre-K educators into the late hours of the evening and dealing with long lines of prospective pre-K employees waiting to be fingerprinted.