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Schools mull tougher checks
Official: Better fingerprinting needed for employees' records

COVINGTON - The Newton County School System Human Resources department is looking into ways to keep students and school personnel safer.

At the Newton County Board of Education's last work session, Dennis Carpenter, associate superintendent for Human Resources at NCSS, proposed that the school system implement a new policy on fingerprinting and background checks for all employees. He suggested that the school system fingerprint all new employees, rather than only certified employees, and

continuously fingerprint employees after they are hired.

"Currently, all certified employees are fingerprinted when they are hired, and background checks are conducted at the time certificates are renewed every five years," Carpenter said during his presentation to the board. "Prior to (this school year), classified staff members and substitute teachers received background checks when they were hired, and no subsequent checks were given."

Carpenter, who began at NCSS in March, said the school system should be doing more to keep the students safe.

He proposed that all employees and substitute teachers should be fingerprinted upon being hired by the school system, at a cost to the employee of $25, the same cost certified employees pay now. Furthermore, he suggested that all certificated employees and paraprofessionals be fingerprinted before their certificates are renewed every five years and non-certificated employees be fingerprinted every five years, according to their hire dates.

He said the fingerprinting program the school system uses doesn't allow them to store the fingerprints, so they cannot simply run a background checking using the same fingerprints every five years.

"We talk about the safety of our students ... I think it's a small price to pay to ensure the safety of our students and staff members," Carpenter said. "We have found instances that if we'd done fingerprinting ... we could have known more."

He said a criminal background check only includes Georgia criminal records; fingerprinting allows the school system to get information from other states and the federal databases.

"Not having fingerprinted all employees may have placed the school system in the precarious position of having hired individuals with issues surrounding their criminal history, about which the district is unaware," he said in a report to the board.

The board members agreed that the safety of the students were important, but member Johnny Smith questioned the employee having to pay for the service.

Carpenter said many other school districts in Georgia have employees pay for fingerprinting but some systems who can afford it pay for it themselves.

"Twenty-five dollars is nothing, compared to what you have to pay to keep your license in many other professions," said board member Cathy Dobbs. "(This) would be like paying $5 per year. I think it's such a little amount."

Carpenter said Tuesday that the school system is now operating under a policy to fingerprint all new employees and that the board is reviewing the proposal in relation to fingerprinting existing employees.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.