By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre school board has approved the preliminary version of a policy requiring fingerprinting and criminal background checks on all new employees of Havre Public Schools.
The board voted to approve the draft of the policy after HPS personnel and special services director Karla Wohlwend presented a summary to the board during Tuesday night's school board meeting.
"We suggest that all employee groups be subjected to fingerprint and background checks," Wohlwend told the board.
The policy states: "Unless exempted by the waivers stated in this policy, newly employed personnel in all employee groups shall submit to a name-based and fingerprint criminal background investigation conducted by an appropriate law enforcement agency. Any offer of employment shall be contingent upon the results of the background check, which must be acceptable to the Board, in its sole discretion."
Wohlwend said people already employed by HPS will not undergo the checks. People who can prove they have passed a Montana employee background check within the past two years will also be exempt.
The district will also screen volunteers who work with students without supervision of school district personnel, Wohlwend said.
School districts across the state are implementing similar policies after the Legislature passed a law this year requiring checks for individuals seeking teaching licenses, HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller said this morning.
In response to the law, the state Board of Public Education made revisions to administrative rules governing criminal history background checks required for new teaching licenses and checks required for substitute teachers, said Miller, who chairs that board.
Miller said all states in the region except for Montana already have statewide policies requiring background checks for prospective employees. That led to fears, he said, that individuals with criminal records from other states would come to Montana to find work in schools.
"We certainly don't want to employ someone who has a background that will put kids at risk," Miller said.
Wohlwend said this morning that the district went beyond the minimum requirement of the law. State law requires checks for people seeking a teacher'slicense, and the revised Board of Public Education rules require each school district to perform checks on substitute teachers, she said, but HPS felt it would be less discriminatory to do checks on everyone. She added that many other districts in the state have decided to do the same thing.
Wohlwend said each background check will cost about $32, and that the district will cover the cost. She said few new teachers are hired every year, so the greatest number of checks will be done to screen substitute teachers and paraprofessionals. About 15 of each were hired last year she said.
Wohlwend estimated the checks, which are performed by the state Department of Justice in Helena, would cost the district between $3,000 and $6,000 next year.
"As a district we felt this was so important for the safety of our children, we're going to go out and do it," she said.
The school board will vote on the second reading of the policy on Aug. 12. If it passes, Miller said, the policy will go into effect immediately.