Changes Made to Background Check Requirements by Act 24 of 2011

As you know, there have been a number of  amendments made to the Pennsylvania Public School Code of 1949 by the Legislature, one of which (Act 24 of 2011) broadens the background check requirements.  In summary, the amendments to the law expand the list of crimes that disqualify individuals from employment with School Districts, increase the period of disqualification from employment and impose a new requirement on existing school employees to notify their school employer in the event that they are arrested or convicted of certain crimes.  These changes may impact interviewing, hiring and retention of employees in your District. 

The specific changes which have been made relate to Section 111 of the School Code, which lists the crimes which disqualify an individual from employment with public and private schools.  Under the prior law, an individual convicted of any of the offenses on the list, generally crimes of violence or sex crimes, could not be employed by a school unless the conviction was at least five (5) years old.  Under the new law, any conviction of one of the listed offenses will result in a permanent bar from school employment.  Further, crimes such as luring a child into a motor vehicle, unlawful contact with minors and solicitation of minors to traffic drugs, among others, have been added to the prohibited offenses list.

The new amendments also expand the prohibition from school employment to include any felony conviction (other than the listed offenses) that is less than ten (10) years old and any first degree misdemeanor conviction which is less than five (5) years old.  For a second offense of DUI or drug offenses graded as a first degree misdemeanor, a person is ineligible for school employment for a period of three (3) years following the expiration of their sentence.  Taken together, these amendments to the School Code significantly broaden the circumstances under which individuals with criminal records will be disqualified from school employment.

The new law calls for PDE to create a standardized form to be used by current and prospective employees to self-report prior arrests and convictions to school authorities.  If an employee fails to complete the form, they must be immediately compelled to provide a criminal history record.  Notably, the new law also requires existing employees who are later arrested or convicted of one of the offenses enumerated in Section 111 to affirmatively disclose the arrest or conviction to the “administrator or designee” within seventy-two (72) hours of the arrest or conviction.  Employees who fail to disclose a conviction or arrest are subject both to potential employment sanctions and criminal prosecution.

Through these amendments, which are effective on or about September 25, 2011, the Legislature has signaled its intent to require school employees to be free from significant, recent criminal pasts.  We recommend the following steps be taken: 

  1. Make sure the District’s Human Resources Department and any necessary clerical staff are made aware of the new law’s requirements and discuss the impact on screening of potential employees.  Also consider posting a summary of the new requirements in the area where employee notices are typically posted.
  2. Once the arrest/conviction disclosure form is posted by the Department of Education on its website, be sure the Human Resources Department establishes a procedure to ensure the form is provided to and collected from all existing and prospective employees and filed appropriately.
  3. As the new law refers to an “administrator” who is responsible to receive reports from employees of arrests or convictions and require non-responding employees to provide background reports, you must designate an administrator and inform employees of the person’s identity.
  4. If you have any existing Board Policy or Administrative Procedure addressing the application of Section 111 of the School Code or related matters, be sure that they are updated to reflect the new amendments.

If you should have any questions or require any guidance or assistance in implementing these new requirements, please contact Alfred Maiello at acm@mbm-law.net or 412.242.4400.

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