RALEIGH — People who want to work in North Carolina public schools could be required to be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check under legislation backed by some state lawmakers.
The N.C. House Education Committee on Tuesday passed legislation that would require public schools to do criminal background checks of job applicants. The legislation would also require people who want to become teachers, or teachers seeking to renew their license, to be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check.
People who refuse to submit to the checks under House Bill 240 would be denied a job and a teaching license.
Schools aren’t required under state law to do criminal records checks.
“It is basically just saying that teachers would be required to have criminal background checks,” Rep. John Torbett, the bill’s primary sponsor and co-chairman of the Education Committee, said Tuesday.
Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, said State Superintendent Catherine Truitt supports the legislation. The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.
Few North Carolina school districts fingerprint their K-12 school employees because it’s not required by state or federal law, The News & Observer previously reported.
School districts have said their current system, which relies on using district staff and outside vendors such as USInfoGroup to run background checks, is effective at screening out bad job applicants.
But the background checks have failed in some highly publicized cases, including where two former Johnston County teachers were arrested in 2019 for allegedly falsifying their job credentials. One of those former teachers was hired despite having a history of criminal felony charges.
North Carolina made national headlines in 2016 when USA Today gave the state an F grade for screening people applying to become teachers. USA Today quoted a state task force report that said “many other states require fingerprint background checks before issuing a license.” It recommended that North Carolina follow suit.
Who should pay for background checks?
Following the national coverage, the Senate unanimously passed legislation in 2016 to require the fingerprinting of teachers. The bill died when the House and Senate couldn’t agree to technical corrections before the legislative session ended.
Another bill was filed in 2017 but died in committee.
On Tuesday, Torbett gutted a bill on school discipline to turn it into a criminal background check bill.
Under the bill, the State Board of Education would require teacher candidates and those seeking renewal of their license to undergo a criminal records check. This would include submitting their fingerprints.
The bill would also require public schools to do criminal checks of job applicants with either a consumer reporting agency or the state Department of Public Safety.
One of the points of contention is who should pay for the background checks.
The North Carolina Association of Educators has in the past said it’s not against requiring the checks. But it is opposed to making people pay for it out of their own pockets.
Under the legislation, people who are required to undergo a criminal records check would be charged for the cost. It would be up to the current or prospective employer whether to pay for them.
However, the bill also allows public schools to do periodic criminal background checks, and employees could not be charged for those checks.
Waiving $50 sub fee for teacher personal days
The Education Committee backed several other bills on Tuesday including:
Legislation that waives the requirement that teachers pay $50 for a substitute teacher to cover their classes when they take a personal day. To not pay, teachers would have to give the reason for the absence to their supervisor.
Legislation that would replace the four high school end-of-course exams with a national exam.