Criminal background checks for Maine school employees are proceeding well ahead of the program’s scheduled five-year phase-in period, state officials say.
About half of Maine’s 47,000 school employees have been fingerprinted over the past year, and the state is struggling to update employees’ licenses to work.
Judith Lucarelli, deputy commissioner of the Department of Education, said that as of Nov. 15, 6,347 teachers and administrators, 7,707 teacher’s aides, and 6,659 bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, and other employees had been cleared to work in Maine schools.
There is a backlog of 3,500 people who have been fingerprinted whose paperwork has not yet been completed. Another 5,000 people never applied for permission to work after having their fingerprints taken.
The fingerprinting program is a state law, designed to protect school children from sexual predators. Employees scheduled to be fingerprinted this year were notified by the state.
When the law first went into effect last winter, many educators said they saw it as an invasion of privacy and threatened not to comply with the tests.
So far, that has not been a widespread problem, said Lt. Jackie Theriault of the Maine State Police.
“A lot of people who are not due to renew this year are going in to get it done,” she said. A recent fingerprinting session in Bangor had to be shut down early because of the high volume of people.
Lucarelli said school employees have been told that they should be in no rush to comply with the new policy. Employees who were informed this year that they need to be fingerprinted have until March to do so. People not due this year have been asked to stay away.
State police technicians collect the prints, which they send electronically to the FBI. Results are returned to the state police in about two weeks, and relevant criminal history is forwarded to the education department.