Schools get faster access to background checks for employees

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JEFFERSON CITY - Schools across the state will now have faster access to background checks for school employees and applicants.

"For the past 8 years, the Highway Patrol has been developing a system that will allow for background checks to be delivered electronically directly to school districts," Sarah Potter, the Communications Coordinator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said. 

DESE said the new streamlined program allows schools to know more quickly when an employee has been arrested for an alleged crime. 

Margery Tanner, the Director of Educator Certification, said the previous process involved the State Highway Patrol sending results back to DESE after completing the background checks. DESE would then send the results to school districts through the mail. 

"With certified teachers, we were able to use our own system to give them those records electronically, but with all other personnel we were having to use paper notices to send to the district," Potter said. 

Now, the State Highway Patrol will enter background check results into a secured web account that the school districts will have access to. The results will be available for up to 90 days and may be viewed, printed or saved depending on district policy. According to DESE's website, districts and charter schools will be able to sort and search for results in the program.

"Once their teacher fingerprints, sometimes they're saying it's a matter of minutes and they can get it back," Tanner said. 

Tanner said nearly five years ago, it often took the Highway State Patrol around six to eight weeks to get the results back into school district's hands. 

"Now, it's down to like minutes, sometimes before they even leave the parking lot," Tanner said. 

"Currently, we're training school district personnel on how to use the Highway Patrol system and then they will have direct access to that system allowing them to receive reports on folks when they are charged with a crime," Potter said.

Schools will be required to designate a Lead Agency Security Officer to monitor use of the web account. During the nearly three-hour class and security awareness training, Tanner said the Highway Patrol will train authorized district personnel on how to use the system, how to destroy information properly and how to keep the system secure. 

"We want to have as smooth a process as possible because it's very important that we have a safe atmosphere for our students and our schools," Potter said. "That's our number one goal." 

Potter said giving districts access to more real-time information when someone is charged with a crime is of utmost importance in keeping students safe. 

While Tanner said a specific instance did not spur this change, the program will allow school districts to know earlier whether or not they should employ a certain applicant. 

"It gives them that 'Yes, I want this person as a sub, but I don't have to wait two weeks to to see if they're really going to be okay,'" Tanner said. 

"Last year, we did 500,000 checks, but only a few dozen turned up results and out of those only about a dozen the district didn't know about, so we're talking about a very small rate of return, but it's still important to get that to districts as fast as possible," Potter said.  

Yearly background checks are required by law for any public school employee who has contact with students. For more information about fingerprinting or background checks, visit the Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education's website.