WICHITA, Kansas – The state of Kansas did not pass a law requiring public school districts to perform background checks on teachers until 2002. In 2015, under state law, support staff technically do not legally have to undergo background checks.
Support staff includes librarians, custodians, and secretaries.
KSN reached out to Wichita parents in March of 2014. Most parents we spoke with were surprised to learn the details surrounding Kansas teachers and staff and background check requirements.
“I think that’s crazy,” said Haley Busch, a parent. “I think anybody that has contact with kids should have to have a background check.”
“They’re still in the same building. They still have the same interactions with the kids,” said Daniel Rogers, a Wichita father. “It all comes down to the safety of them and who’s around them.”
KSN spoke with the executive director of the safety services department for Wichita Public Schools, Terri Moses, in 2014. We asked Moses if she believes one background check is enough.
“I think that as the world changes, and we have situations where people, like travel and do those kind of things, we’re constantly looking at ways we can update the safety of our schools,” said Moses.
USD 259 does exceed Kansas state law’s minimum requirements by background checking all staff. However, the district only conducts background checks once, when employees are first hired. This came as a surprise to parents, as well.
“It’s probably something that should be done every year because people do things throughout their life,” said mother, Michelle Grundeman.
Nearly a year after that KSN investigation, the topic remains on the minds of state lawmakers, including Republican State Senator Greg Smith, through Senate Bill 70.
Senate Bill 70 provides for mandatory background checks for certified staff, teachers, for every license renewal. In Kansas, teachers must renew their license every five years.
“It also requires five year background checks on anybody that works in the school and has direct contact with students,” explained Sen. Smith.
The bill also requires teachers and staff be fingerprinted over again every five years at the employee’s expense.
Sen. Smith says the reason behind re-fingerprinting is “simple.”KBI: Rap Back System
Once someone is in the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s Rap Back system, Sen. Smith explained, and someone is arrested in the state of Kansas, all agencies with subscriptions to Rap Back will be notified of the arrest.
Notifications will not be made concerning criminal actions or arrests outside the state.
“The only way to double-check that and make sure it is, is to submit a federal background investigation,” said Sen. Smith. “To make sure that, yes, this really is the person that we’re checking, fingerprints are needed, and we’re just ensuring that we have a fresh set of fingerprints every time we do that.”
Teacher advocacy groups argue the bill would be another “attack” on teachers.
“We want only the best people in those classrooms. There’s no problem with that,” explained Deena Burnett, a representative with United Teachers of Wichita. “The reality is, it’s the cost, and now, it’s the cost and the inconvenience.”
United Teachers of Wichita also argues that the issue is about authority.
“State statute allows the State Department of Education to make that determination,” said Burnett, concerning licensing.
“Is it part of plan to get rid of the State Department of Education?” she asked. “It’s just another added fee for teachers to be licensed.”
The fear, Burnett says, becomes more about the state over-stepping the Department of Education’s responsibilities. Burnett told KSN she is concerned about the rationale for the bill.
Burnett argues the above statute includes determining regulations and requirements for background checking and fingerprinting teachers in public school districts across the state of Kansas.
In fact, at their September 2014 board meeting, the Kansas State Board of Education adopted a change in fingerprint requirement regulations for licensing. According to the board’s public announcement,
“These changes will affect veteran educators who have never submitted fingerprints as part of any previous application for a Kansas certificate or license issued by the Kansas State Department of Education.”
The new regulation, as adopted by the Department of Education, went into effect on November 15, 2014. To read more about the regulation, click here.
For more information on the department and its policies, call (785) 296-2288 or visit www.ksde.org.
Senate Bill 70 cleared the Kansas Senate. It must now move through the Kansas State House of Representatives.Kansas Legislature background checks bill (replaces SB 335 shown below):
Link to Senate Bill No. 70 history and versions (Concerning background checks)Kansas Legislature background checks bill (from 2014, replaced by SB 70):
Link to Senate Bill No. 335 history and versions (Concerning background checks)