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This is the first in a series of stories on checking for national criminal backgrounds of all employees who work with children. Masslive will continue to report on this subject and we welcome you comments and ideas on the issue. Kindergarten teachers, day care teachers, guidance counselors and lunch ladies have been lining up to be fingerprinted to ensure they have not been convicted of a crime anywhere in the country.
The state wants to ensure more than 70, teachers along with thousands of other employees who work with children across the state do not have criminal records from outside of Massachusetts. Patrick signed a law already approved by legislators which calls for every public or private school employee who may be alone with students, including early childhood educators, counselors for after-school programs, teacher assistants, custodians and clerks, to be fingerprinted so they can be checked for previous arrests and convictions nationally.
Employment Background Check Laws, Massachusetts | Info Cubic
Currently schools run all employees and volunteers through the state's Criminal Offender Record Information system , known as CORI, but that only checks employees' records in Massachusetts, leaving a large hole in the system. Under the new law, school departments and day care centers are required to have national criminal background checks through the FBI data base done by the end of this school year for new employees who were hired in the summer of or later. By September all private and public school employees are required to have had a national criminal background check.
The process for checking backgrounds of employees began in mid-February as a pilot program with five fingerprinting centers and 20 school districts and several early childhood centers that volunteered to try the system.
What information is required in a background check
On March 24, MorphoTrust USA, the company which is conducting the checks, began opening more centers and accepting employees from all school districts. State Rep. Alice H. Peisch, D-Wellesley, who is the chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Education, said the bill was written after officials realized Massachusetts was the only state in the country which did not check the national criminal backgrounds of people who work with children. The issue actually came to the attention of legislators after there had been a number of school employees arrested for high-profile crimes involving students.
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Confusion over CORI
CORI was started in as a centralized data base of criminal records for law enforcement and government agencies that were required to do criminal checks before hiring or licensing certain people, notes Ernest Winsor, staff attorney for the non-profit Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. In , following the arrest of a school bus driver on pornography charges, CORI was made accessible to a third category of users - any agency or individual "where it has been determined that the public interest in disseminating such information" outweighed the privacy rights of the CORI subjects.
Over the past several decades, access to CORI has been steadily expanding to provide access, and increasingly mandated checks, by entities serving elderly, children and disabled; state health and human service providers; nursing homes, school districts and more, Winsor says. For example, the CORI website lists towing companies with police contracts, legislative committee, commercial ground carriers and body art practitioners providers of tattoos and body piercings , insurance companies and fuel suppliers among those with access.
The number of businesses and agencies certified has mushroomed to more than 10,, requesting some 1. Since in Massachusetts, anyone arraigned in a criminal court — even those acquitted or with cases dismissed — has a criminal record, the CORI database has also ballooned over the years. State procedures for individuals to have such records sealed, corrected or removed are cumbersome, Winsor and other critics charge.
The records not only include felony and misdemeanor charges and convictions, but also arraignments and pending case information. Thus, Winsor says, in a state with a population of under 6 million, the CORI database contains records on 2. Much of it, he terms "junk CORI" that he says is senselessly used to keep people from pursuing employment and education. Just what information CORI requesters receive is determined by their certification and can include dismissals, not guilty findings and pending procedures. The general public can obtain recent felony convictions on an individual from CORI by sending in a request with the required fee.
The result, they say, is that many agencies and businesses use any kind of CORI record to reject applicants out of hand. Against the backdrop of the CORI debate, employers are faced with weighing options for screening employees at a time when there are more tools than ever at their disposal, as well as more liability threats regarding their hiring decisions. A recent survey of Boston-area businesses found that 80 percent of them have a formal policy for background checks compared with 71 percent two years ago, according to Waltham Attorney Robert Shea, who recently provided guidance on the subject to the Smaller Business Association of New England.
He notes that, thanks to the Internet, background checks on prospective employees are easier to conduct than ever and private background check services are more affordable.
Area companies agree that there is more pressure than ever to screen applicants for criminal history. They acknowledge that an ongoing lawsuit by the family of murdered fashion writer Christa Worthington against the trash company whose driver was convicted of killing her, reinforces the need for employers to be cautious.
Most business people who talked to WBJ also say they considered any criminal history of applicants on a case-by-case basis and sympathized with the struggle people trying to overcome a criminal history face in the job market. However, only one company, which asked not to be named, was considering changing its hiring policy to consider convicted felons - only through a training program being launched by EPOCA.
All other employers we talked with said they would likely not hire a convicted felon, though, they added, they had not faced that decision. He does CORI checks on not just school bus drivers, but limo and truck drivers as well. But, Ernenwein says, he uses common sense to guide hiring decisions. The Charlton-based Masonic Health System, which operates a nursing home and visiting nurses agency, also relies on CORI, which it is mandated to check.
However, he says, he can see where, based on the information the CORI process specifies for its search, there could be aliases missed as in the Home Instead case. Offering a different tack, as a non-mandated business, is Stephen Buchalter, president of Worcester-based Enterprise Cleaning Corp.
Atlas Distributing Inc. Jack Lepore, vice president of finance and operations, says Atlas is required to do background checks for the Department of Transportation and for its insurers. Atlas has used Worcester Record Search Inc. Harriett Chandler.