New law requires school employee background checks every 5 years

Published 7:59 pm Thursday, June 7, 2018

Several new laws designed to protect Tennessee students from sexual abuse will be taking effect on July 1, and according to a local school system official at least one of them will have a significant impact on local system operations.

“With the new law going into place on July 1, every school system employee will have to have a background check every five years,” said Director of Carter County Schools Dr. Kevin Ward. Under the current law, school systems only have to run background checks at the time of initial hiring of an employee.

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Ward said he and other administrators are subject to the new background check requirements as are about 300 paraprofessionals (such as custodians and cafeteria workers) and around 650 teachers.

Those employees who have been hired in the past few years will not have to undergo a new background check until the five-year mark rolls around on their employment, according to Ward.

To help lessen the burden for school systems to come into compliance with the new law, Ward said state officials are allowing them to phase in the checks for existing employees over the next few years so they will go into a rotation and not all come due at the same time.

The law requires the local education agencies to pay the costs incurred for the background checks on employees. Ward said the current cost for a background check on an employee is around $25.

“(State officials) are looking at a possible program through the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that could get that cost down to about $9,” Ward said.

A memorandum of fiscal impact completed by the Tennessee General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee estimated that the new law would increase state revenue by around $245,000 through fees brought into the TBI for the background checks while increasing state expenditures by about $143,000. On the local level, the committee’s fiscal review estimates that local expenditures to comply with the law would exceed $339,000.

Ward said he had spoken with the local agency that conducts the fingerprinting for the school system’s background checks and fears the agency will be overwhelmed with all of the new requests for fingerprints since that agency handles not only the Carter County School System but Elizabethton City Schools as well.

The new law requiring routine background checks on all employees was part of a five-bill legislative package passed by both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly earlier this year. All five of the bills were signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam.

Other changes to state law created by the bills include:

• Requiring the State Board of Education to transmit final disciplinary action reports on educator licenses to a national clearinghouse to make the information more readily available as well as requiring the Board to post final disciplinary action reports on their website.

• Revising the Teacher Code of Ethics to include updates regarding professional and transparent relationships with students.

• Requires a director of schools to report convictions of a licensed educator for specific criminal offenses to the State Board of Education. The law also authorizes the Board to reprimand a director for failure to report those convictions as required. Directors must also report to the Board any suspensions, dismissals, or resignations that follow allegations of misconduct which, if substantiated, would warrant the suspension or revocation of licensure.

• Prevents a local education agency from entering into a non-disclosure agreement during a settlement, or as a pre-requisite to a settlement, for any act of sexual misconduct. Prohibits the education system from assisting a school employee, contractor, or agent in obtaining a new job if the assisting employee knows or has probable cause to believe the person seeking the job change engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor or student.