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In session’s final hours, teacher background check bill advancing in N.C. General Assembly

sb867-Backgroundcheck-331x219With the N.C. General Assembly winding down its short session, lawmakers are hoping to speed though the final bills on their agenda Friday, one of which sets a new statewide background check standard for teacher licensure.

Friday morning, the House Finance Committee gave its approval for Senate Bill 867, setting the stage for its likely passage in the final hours of the session.

The bill would create one statewide standard for fingerprint background checks, requiring that all teachers seeking licensure by the N.C. State Board of Education submit to the checks. It will also require fingerprint checks for all new charter school employees.

It’s a bill that’s gained mostly bipartisan support after a USA Today feature in February dished out an “F” grade for North Carolina’s teacher background check system.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, Wake, said the legislation will install a “comprehensive” background checks system for North Carolina.

The State Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor’s office, will have the final say in licensure.

But the bill has prompted concerns from some that it could be used to stifle educator protests. The criminal citations flagged in the bill include civil disobedience crimes such as “refusal to disperse,” a charge handed down to a number of legislative protesters, including teachers, in recent years.

Comments during Friday’s committee meeting seemed aimed at assuaging those concerns, particularly from Rep. Graig Meyer, an Orange County Democrat.

Meyer pointed out that the crimes listed in the bill are already included in the state’s background check statutes for teachers, and that, should the State Board of Education choose to reject a teacher’s licensure based on their history, it will require a written explanation by the state board.

Meyer said teachers should contact their legislators if they are denied teaching licenses because of their protests.

“I don’t think that’s a good reason to oppose this bill at this time,” added Meyer.

However, critics have noted, the legislation that seems bound for approval on the legislative floor does not require the same checks for private schools, despite documented concerns about that exemption.

Meanwhile, committee lawmakers rejected a request Friday morning from Rep. Jay Adams, a Republican from Catawba County, who moved to amend the bill to include mental health records in the teacher background checks. Legislative staff and other lawmakers noted Adams’ amendment could clash with the medical record privacy protections provided in federal HIPAA law. 

Katie Cornetto, attorney for the State Board of Education, has pointed out that teachers will have the option of appealing licensure denials to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings and N.C. Superior Court.

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