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Minnesota Legislature

Teacher background checks detailed

Published (4/17/2009)
By Kris Berggren
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The House approved a bill that would allow the Board of Teaching to disclose to school boards and administrators whether a prospective teacher has a disciplinary record that includes sexual misconduct. Currently, that information is not disclosed because of privacy laws.

HF523, sponsored by Rep. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove), was passed as amended April 16 by a 127-1 vote. It now goes to the Senate where Sen. Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury) is the sponsor.

The bill would also require candidates to provide information in the employment application regarding any history of disciplinary actions by the board, and give employers the standing to ask the candidates for information directly. It excludes disclosure of failure to pay court-ordered child support, spousal support or delinquent taxes.

Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) introduced an amendment to include those exceptions.

“We’re talking about educators. We’re talking about people who are entrusted with a high level of honor working with the youth of this state. I think any disciplinary action should be disclosed,” he said.

Buesgens’ amendment was defeated, but another offered by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville), which added testing positive for alcohol use on school grounds during the school day to the types of misconduct that would be disclosed, was adopted.

Motivated by recent news reports revealing that a Bloomington school hired an employee whose criminal background check was inaccurate, Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth) offered two amendments that would have stipulated criminal penalties for law enforcement officials failing to provide full background information on school job candidates.

Both amendments were ruled out of order. “If we are going to make public officials criminally responsible for not doing their duties, that is a dramatic expansion of this bill,” Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL- Brooklyn Park) advised House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Mpls).

Board of Teaching Director Karen Balmer told the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee Feb. 19 that the threshold for taking disciplinary action is high, supported by “volumes of files” of evidence for those agreements, “but those files are not public, and in fact they’re very tightly protected by the data privacy laws.”

The actual stipulation agreement of disciplinary action, Balmer explained, is negotiated between the board and an individual teacher. It becomes public information, but rarely reveals the actual cause for the action.

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