Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District (CMS), the public school district for Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (and for Charlotte, its largest city), changed its employee background check policy in the middle of a school year hiring period without notifying the public.
Per a report from Charlotte’s Channel 9 WSOC TV, CMS board policy requires criminal background checks for all applicants “who accept a job with the district.” The policy stipulates that fingerprinting must be done for all applicants “in order to conduct an accurate check of criminal records.”
Fingerprint background checks have traditionally been a piece of the school district’s pre-employment background check policy. The district can also require any existing employee to be re-checked with a fingerprint background screening.
For nearly a year, the school district has not been including fingerprint background checks as part of its vetting policies. CMS told WSOC TV that it changed background check vendors last July, a switch that led the district to “pause” its policy of fingerprint background checks. The district said that the new vendor allows for “more extensive, deeper background checks.”
The district did not notify the public that it had decided to tweak its practices without a formal policy change. The CMS board has not enforced the fingerprint background check requirement.
CMS now says that it is in the process of “reviewing a change to [its] policy.” It isn’t clear whether that review could lead to a formal repeal of the board’s requirement for fingerprint background checks.
Because CMS decided to pause the fingerprint background check practice last July, the decision affected virtually all school district hires made for the 2018/19 school year. CMS told WSOC TV that it hired about 3,500 employees within that period. CMS serves more than 135,000 students and their families from throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg county. In total enrollment, it is one of the 20 largest public school districts in the United States.
This school year, the district has contended with several headlines that called student safety into question. In October, a brawl between two male high school students turned deadly when one of the students pulled a gun and shot the other, killing him. The district found 11 guns in its schools throughout the year with metal detectors and security wands.
There have not been any reports of teacher or faculty misconduct in the school district since the fingerprinting pause began.
Parents and community members were alarmed at the school district’s decision and called for a reinstatement of fingerprinting for new hires. Local backlash led CMS to resume its fingerprinting policy. On June 20, the district sent a letter to all hires from the past year who weren’t fingerprinted informing them that they would need to go through the fingerprinting process retroactively.
In the background check community, there are conflicting viewpoints about whether fingerprint background checks are more thorough than name and SSN-based checks.