Some school's back-to-school agendas include teacher background checks

About halfway through a statewide effort to conduct fingerprint-based criminal background checks on teachers, substitutes and classroom aides, many schools in Tarrant County, Texas, are getting their turns.

Grapevine-Colleyville, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw and Crowley were among districts set to start this summer. After the district’s date begins, the state sends an e-mail to affected employees and they have 80 days to have their fingerprints taken.

Fort Worth, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Arlington, Keller and Birdville school districts will start this fall.

About 12,500 of the approximately 164,000 checks, or about 8 percent, run so far on certified teachers and substitutes statewide have come back with some kind of "hit," which may be an arrest or a conviction.

Of those, 9 percent, or more than 1,000, were for felony crimes, said Doug Phillips, director of investigations and fingerprinting for the Texas Education Agency.

The agency has opened 168 investigations since Jan. 1, 2008, based on information from a check. The agency doesn’t keep data on how many of those cases resulted in a loss of certification, he said.

Even if most fingerprint checks come back clean, the practice keeps children safer, Phillips said. "We don't know how many people we've convinced not to teach in Texas or to leave Texas because they've had that criminal history and they don't want to be found," he said. "There's no doubt people left the state or they left teaching because they knew they were going to get nailed."

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