WICHITA, Kansas – Local education officials will be working to incorporate a new policy from the state that all teachers submit their fingerprints to authorities.
The state board of education voted in the policy change Tuesday for license renewals by veteran teachers who have not had to be fingerprinted before.
“It improves the safety of students in their classrooms,” James McNiece, a Board of Education member representing Wichita and several counties in south central Kansas. “By checking the backgrounds of teachers, we’re validating that teachers are the quality people they’re supposed to be.”
McNiece sided with eight of the other nine board members in approving the policy, which calls for all teachers who started before 2002 to be fingerprinted when they renew their teaching licenses. In all, about 35,000 teachers across the state will need to be fingerprinted, state officials said. Teachers who began working after 2002 have already been fingerprinted and are not affected by the policy change.
But local teachers’ groups criticized the change, calling it unnecessary.
“I can count on my hand how many times I’ve been involved with teachers who have committed felonies,” Dave Kirkbride, executive director of the south central Kansas National Education Association, said, adding that those teachers were promptly removed from their positions
Affected teachers will pay a $50 fee to be fingerprinted only the first time they renew their license. The data goes to prosecutors statewide who are required to report felony convictions to the Department of Education so they can check them against teaching rosters. But there is currently no penalty for county attorneys who fail to do this, drawing the ire of the unions.
“I’m tired of teachers being forced to do things when we already have regulations that require someone else to do them,” Kirkbride said.
But board members like McNiece are hopeful their initiative will make prosecutors more willing to comply.
“Giving them notice as we will on a monthly basis, and the initiative on our part to fingerprint all teachers over the next 5 years is going to ensure a safer classroom,” he said.