BOSTON -- Teachers at public and private schools, workers at child care centers and school bus drivers are among those who will soon be required to submit fingerprints for criminal background checks under a new Massachusetts law.
Gov. Deval Patrick signed the wide-reaching measure saying it closes a loophole in existing state law and will help protect children.
Under the new law, the fingerprints will be submitted to the state police for a state criminal history check and also forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a national background check. Under the previous law, fingerprints were not required and only a state check was conducted.
All newly hired teachers, bus drivers and others working at schools will be required to undergo the background checks before the start of the next school year.
Current employees must undergo the checks before the 2016-2017 school year.
Licensed family child care providers, their household members age 15 or older, and individuals regularly on the premises of a family child care home will also be subject to the checks, as will subcontractors commissioned to perform work on school grounds.
Previously, schools were only allowed to conduct background checks for crimes committed inside Massachusetts using the state’s name-based Criminal Offender Record Information system. Those system checks did not include any criminal history record information for crimes committed outside the state.
The information gleaned from the background checks can be used by investigators from the Department of Early Education and Care and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education looking into allegations of misconduct by teachers.
The fingerprint background checks would also apply to everyone seeking to adopt children or become foster parents as well as all other employees of school departments who may have direct, unmonitored contact with children.
State Rep. Alice Peisch, who pushed for the changes, said Massachusetts will "no longer lag behind" other states which have already adopted the national fingerprint background check.
Officials hailed the law, saying it should provide more peace of mind for parents and students.