The recently-revised school employee background check requirements contained in Section 111 of the Pennsylvania School Code received additional attention during the recent legislative session. As you will recall, last year’s Act 24 of 2011 made several changes to Section 111, namely (1) expanding the list of criminal offenses which disqualify individuals from school employment; (2) lengthening the disqualification from ten (10) years to a lifetime ban for those enumerated criminal offenses; (3) placing a ten (10) year ban on employment for anyone convicted of a felony of any grade; (4) placing a five (5) year ban on employment for anyone convicted of a first degree misdemeanor; and (5) requiring all prospective and current employees to report convictions or arrests of any of the enumerated offenses on a form prepared by PDE by the end of December, 2011.
Following the passage of Act 24 of 2011, several questions were raised including whether the form required employees to report convictions only and not arrests and whether the new background check requirements required school districts to terminate existing employees who were convicted of an offense which would render them ineligible for obtaining a new clearance.
With Act 82 of 2012, the Legislature answered these questions by (1) expanding the reporting requirement and applicability of the background check requirements to include student teachers as well as school employees and independent contractors, (2) stating that a school district is required to terminate from employment any current employee who was convicted of an offense which renders the employee ineligible for employment under Section 111, and (3) clarifying that current and prospective employees are required to report on PDE’s form not only an arrest or conviction for one of the felony offenses which give rise to a lifetime employment ban, but also any arrest or conviction for a first degree felony, first degree misdemeanor or second DUI offense graded as a first degree misdemeanor, any of which results in a ban from school employment of varying length.
In response to Act 82, PDE has revised the form which current and prospective employees must use to self-report arrests and convictions. The revised form can be found on PDE’s website under the “background checks” tab. Do the new requirements obligate your district to go through the entire process again of collecting forms from all its employees? Not exactly. For any prospective employees and any existing employees who failed to submit a form previously, your district should use the revised form. For current employees, your district should notify employees that the background check requirements have been expanded to require written reporting of a broader range of criminal arrests and convictions and advise that any one who was previously convicted or arrested of a first degree felony or first degree misdemeanor but did not report it previously are required to submit a revised form. Employees should be reminded that the failure to report an offense which they are required by law to disclose, is grounds for employee discipline.