COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — About 4,700 Ohio-licensed educators are missing from Ohio’s fingerprint-tracking system that helps notify their employers about any new criminal charges against them, so they’re being asked to voluntarily be fingerprinted again and get background checks while officials seek to fix a loophole that led to the problem.
At least 1,200 of those educators currently work in Ohio public schools, according to the state Department of Education.
The issue surfaced before the current school year, and the Department of Education has been checking the Ohio Court Network to make sure none of the educators in question has a noteworthy criminal case that merits notifying their employers in the meantime, state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said. He said Thursday no such instance has been found.
“We do have protections in place,” but the court-checking method is cumbersome, sporadic and thus not a long-term solution, he said.
The department most recently conducted those court checks about a month ago, spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said. The time lapse lends impetus for a more permanent solution because if an affected educator had a new criminal case in the past month, the department and the school district wouldn’t necessarily know about it yet.
The affected group amounts to less than 2 percent of Ohio’s 318,000 licensed educators. It includes people such as K-12 teachers and coaches who went through background checks for licensure but are no longer in the finger-print tracking system, called the Rapback Program, because their licenses lapsed, even if they were later re-established, or for other reasons, such as having a smudged set of prints initially, DeMaria said.
The department says it doesn’t have authority to force those educators to be fingerprinted again.
DeMaria notified State Board of Education members in a Thursday letter about the problem. He said he’ll also ask them to seek legislative help to address it. The department also is sending letters to affected licensees, requesting that they voluntarily get a new background check with new fingerprints.
The decade-old Rapback Program, created by state law and run by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, is meant as a continual safeguard to ensure that certain people, such as teachers or foster parents, don’t remain in such positions of trust if they’re convicted of crimes after their initial background checks. The Department of Education is by far the largest user, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.