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Bill calls for school workers' rap sheets

| Monday, July 10, 2006

Anyone who wants to work for a Pennsylvania school system will have to add FBI "rap sheets" to their resumes under a bill that Gov. Ed Rendell plans to sign into law this week.

Kate Philips, Rendell's spokeswoman, said current law requires an FBI criminal background check only of education job applicants who also are new state residents. Anyone who has lived in the state for at least two years only has to get a state police background check, which covers only crimes committed in Pennsylvania.

"Over the past couple of years, a couple of people have slipped through the cracks," she said.

The provision would take effect April 1 and apply to all prospective employees of public and private schools, intermediate units and vocational-technical schools. The law would cover teachers, substitutes, janitors, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, independent contractors and their employees, except those who have no direct contact with children.

The requirement also would apply to student teachers, who are not employees but work in classrooms as they move toward receiving teaching certification.

Rep. Lawrence H. Curry, D-Montgomery, proposed federal background checks in 2005 after he learned that a Cheltenham Township School District substitute teacher had been convicted of assault in Virginia.

Philips said the legislation puts the burden of getting the rap sheet on the applicant.

"There would actually be no cost to the commonwealth because the applicants would pay it," she said.

FBI spokesman Jeff Killeen said the cost to the job applicant is $18, the fee the agency's Criminal Justices Information Services Division charges for pulling together someone's criminal background record.

"Anybody can ask for a copy of their own rap sheet," he said.

Philips said the $18 is in addition to the $10 the state police charge for doing a Pennsylvania criminal background check.

Representatives of two teacher unions said their organizations have no objections to the requirement.

"It wasn't necessarily a priority of ours, but we don't have any problem with it," said Beth Schwartz, of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

John Tarka, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said the hiring system has several safeguards, but it doesn't hurt to add this one.

"We do not object to it," he said.

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