New Missouri Law Causes Some School District Dilemmas

New Missouri Law Causes Some School District Dilemmas
By: Amy Jacquin

A new Missouri law requires an extensive F.B.I. Background check on all school employees who have contact with students.

It used to be just certified teachers were put through the check. But as of January first, so are any substitutes, cafeteria staff and custodians.

The new demand caused a backlog, and a three or four month delay in some hiring!

But the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, just gave districts approval to speed-up the process a bit, through a contingency deal with new hires.

All employees in the Cape Girardeau School District -- including substitute teachers -- have to pass $5 background checks by the highway patrol, and free checks through Division of Family Services. But a new law says now anyone who has contact with students must ALSO pass an extensive FBI background check.

The personnel director in the Cape school district is concerned because it already took several weeks to several months to process certified teachers...

"How much more of a backlog will there be once you add substitute teachers into the mix?" asks Gerald Richards.

To make matters more confusing, substitute teachers are required to renew their certification every year. That includes the $5 state background check. The latest word from DESE is that there only needs to be one F.B.I. Background check per district.

So if a sub applies for certification through the Cape district, they will not need another F.B.I. check next year. But if they want to substitute in another district, they will need to get an F.B.I check for that district... And so on down the list for every district they want to be considered for substituting.

The backlog quickly turned into a 16-week delay... which crippled districts needing to get support staff into cafeterias, or substitutes into classrooms. But that's when DESE relaxed the rules to better serve the districts. Even though the law technically says districts cannot employ anyone who has not cleared the FBI check. DESE says they can.

"The guidelines we've received from DESE is you can... initially," added Richards. "As long as there's the understanding with that employee that should the FBI check not clear, than naturally their employment is terminated."

Missouri law makers dished out this new FBI background check law without providing funding. And while there's heaping support for safer schools, most districts admit it's hard to swallow the expense and extra hassle. Richards says it could cost the Cape district an extra $10,000 a year.

So the hiring process can go a little faster, but the funding dilemma continues.

The Cape district is having its attorney review the law, and will use his recommendations to develop a funding recommendation. There's a possibility they could ask the new employees to cover the $38 cost of the F.B.I background check themselves.