The centerpiece of the new law is the requirement for fingerprinting, which can imply arrest.
"If you want a background check, fine, but why does it have to include your fingerprints?" asks Jonathan Hodges, a Paterson school board member who may lose his seat for non-compliance. He added, "It's another erosion of our personal liberties."
It's true that many professions, including teaching, require criminal checks and fingerprinting. Teaching, however, is a full-time job. School board members are volunteers. It's certainly possible that over time the criminal background check requirement will make volunteering for what can be a time-consuming job less appealing.Well, my town requires youth sports coaches to get fingerprinted, so I don't much see the difference. I'd also ask Mr. Hodges to consider that the teachers in his district have their salaries published in readily available databases; isn't that an "erosion of personal liberty"?
And, while school board members are volunteers (do any in New Jersey get a stipend?), they do hold positions of power and influence. If the simple act of fingerprinting is keeping someone from doing the job, I doubt they were very committed to it in the first place.
The S-L opines:
OK, fine - except school boards knew about this since last May. That's plenty of time to comply with the law if the boards are diligent.When the new background check was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in May, it was supposed to take effect immediately. Yet, unbeknownst to legislators, the state needed federal clearance to complete the process, so it couldn’t be implemented right away. Board members were told to wait, said Frank Belluscio of the New Jersey School Boards Association, which caused initial confusion. “The sense of urgency was lost,” he said.Since then, the state says it did everything it could to warn board members of the impending deadline, sending out three letters between July and December to their district offices. Those who did not act in time — a “wanted” list of 186 — have now been declared ineligible.But wait: Some may have already registered for the finger-printing, yet could not complete it because of a backlog. Others may have had problems registering online. Besides, as The Star-Ledger found, the state’s ineligibility list itself contained errors — people who no longer serve on the boards, or never have.Thankfully, after Assemblymen Jerry Green (D-Union) and Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) asked the state Friday to extend its deadline, acting education commissioner Christopher Cerf said he plans to give everybody another two weeks to comply.That’s fair, because the law itself is clearly flawed. We don’t require background checks for other elected officials. Yet for board members with even a minor conviction, it mandates automatic disqualification without any sort of appeal process or discretion. Cerf should be allowed to consider the nature of the crime, how long ago it took place and the person’s record of community service.
And the fact is, most were. There were only two public school boards in the entire state who had three or more members who didn't follow the procedure...
Except for charter schools. Eleven charters had three or more members who didn't comply; in one case, the ENTIRE charter board didn't follow the rules.
Now, we can argue about the validity of this law. We can argue that having one or two members who are not in compliance is not a big deal. We can be reasonable and extend the deadline for those who made a good faith effort to comply.
But this is the law, and it is incumbent on officials to follow it. If large numbers of people in certain schools did not, that demonstrates, to me, both a casual attitude toward following the rules and/or a level of incompetence that is simply not acceptable.
You may disagree with this law, but I think the fact that so many charter schools are not in compliance tells us something about these schools. At the very least, the state (and the media) ought to take a careful look at how they are being run. And, yes, that goes for the two public districts that weren't in compliance as well.