A new piece of legislation pending in the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate could change the way the state completes background checks for school employees.
Per a report from the Times Ledger, a weekly newspaper based in Queens, the bill is the work of State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic. Senator Todd Kaminsky introduced the Senate version of the bill. The legislation would mandate fingerprinting and government-run criminal background checks for all employees at all schools in New York. The stated goal of the bill is to prevent sexual abuse and predatory behavior in schools.
Currently, background checks and fingerprinting are required for some school employees, but only if they work in public schools and have contact with students. Prospective employees must submit for criminal background checks through both the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Fingerprinting is also required for these individuals.
The law does not apply to private schools and exempts school employees whose jobs do not inherently involve contact with students.
The Rozic/Kaminsky bill would extend the requirements of the existing law to include private schools. Right now, private schools in New York can establish their own standards and strategies for vetting employees. In a quote to the TimesLedger, a private practice attorney who has advocated for legislation of this ilk said it would extend protections to “more than 400,000 non-public school children” in the state.
While private schools have never been required to follow the rest of the state regarding background check requirements, that doesn’t mean those schools haven’t been vetting their employees. In October, the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) announced that it would be instituting a new requirement for the 2018/19 school year. The association’s mandate requires all member schools to fingerprint their prospective employees as part of the background check process. NYSAIS is an association of nearly 200 private and independent schools throughout New York.
Will this new legislation fill the gaps that Rozic, Kaminsky, and proponents of the legislation expect it to fill?
Fingerprinting is often cited as the gold standard for criminal history screening, but critics of the process note that it is less thorough than many people believe it to be. For instance, not all criminal records are filed with fingerprinting data. Fingerprints are often linked to arrest records, but New York law bars employers from considering arrest records for hiring purposes unless the arrests pertain to still-pending criminal charges.
By extending school employee background checks to include all prospective employees—not just those whose positions are deemed to “have contact with children”—the Rozic/Kaminsky bill could help to fill in some gaps in New York’s school vetting process. Extending the law to private schools could also limit the opportunities for predators and abusers to find jobs at schools in the state.