Senate committee approves teacher background checks, but excludes private schools

classroomA state Senate education panel gave its approval Tuesday to draft legislation mandating fingerprint background checks for all public school teachers, but did not take up rules that would require the same of all private school teachers.

Senate Bill 867, titled “Protect Students in Schools,” is a response to a February article in USA Today assessing states’ varying teacher background check policies. The article—which spurred outrage from lawmakers such as Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Republican representing Wake County who co-sponsored the legislation, and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest—gave North Carolina a grade of “F.”

The bill, which now heads to a Senate judiciary committee, will require all applicants for teacher licensing in the state to submit to the checks. The applicant will be required to cough up the $40-50 fee, although local school boards have the option of paying for the background check on the applicant’s behalf.

However, there is one key exclusion in the legislation. The state does not require licensing and background checks for private school teachers. And while some private schools already ask for their teachers to be licensed, others do not, sometimes with tragic consequences, the Asheville Citizen-Times‘ Tonya Maxwell reported in April. 

Despite the concerns over private schools, no lawmakers raised the subject during Tuesday’s meeting.

According to the draft bill, the State Board of Education will determine whether any criminal history turned up in the check indicates that a teacher “poses a threat to the physical safety of students or personnel” or “does not have the integrity or honesty to fulfill his or her duties.”

Previously, local school systems handled background checks for teachers, but there were no statewide standards.

The bill would apply to teachers in public schools, including public charter schools, seeking licenses going forward, meaning that current North Carolina teachers will not have to be run through the background check until it’s time to renew their license.

In North Carolina, public school teachers are required to renew their license every five years.

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