Fingerprinting proposals have merit

Plans would affect 35,000 teachers

By The Mercury

Veteran Kansas teachers shouldn’t get overly righteous at the notion of having to get fingerprinted. Rather, they ought to recognize it as a way to help the state ensure the safety of schoolchildren in this state.

A couple of proposals exist that would require that all Kansas teachers and administrators be fingerprinted. One is a Senate bill, the other a regulation change the Kansas Board of Education is considering. Both would require that all Kansas teachers be fingerprinted through the Department of Education and that the prints be in a Kansas Bureau of Investigation database. The costs are estimated at $50 per teacher.

Since 2002, Kansas has mandated that new teachers submit to fingerprinting and background checks and that they pay an additional fee when they renew their licenses. But there are 35,000 Kansas teachers who were hired before 2002 for whom that law didn’t apply. If the legislative bill, proposed by state Sen. Greg Smith, an Overland Park Republican, becomes law, teachers who have not yet submitted to fingerprints would be required to do so. Sen. Smith’s proposal, in fact, calls for all school personnel who have contact with students, including cooks and custodians, to be fingerprinted. Sen. Smith isn’t picking on teachers. A military veteran and former police officer, he now teaches at Shawnee Mission West High School.

His bill also would allow school districts that have reason to believe that a teacher is using drugs or alcohol to test the teacher.

The bill’s timeliness became apparent earlier this month when a 10-year-old girl was kidnapped and killed in Springfield, Mo. The individual charged with her death was an employee of that city’s school district.

The Kansas Board of Education’s proposal is similar to Sen. Smith’s bill with regard to fingerprinting. The Department of Education would be notified by the KBI within about a week after a teacher is charged with a crime rather than after a conviction, which could be many months later.

Neither of these proposals is particularly onerous. Fingerprinting and background checks are becoming increasingly common in the workplace. Their value ought to be obvious for people who work with children.

As for the $50 fee, it’s not excessive. What’s more, districts could ease the inconvenience for teachers by inviting fingerprinting professionals to school during an inservice.

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