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11/22/2013
Teachers repeated background checks

KETCHIKAN (KDN) — Preschool teachers in the Ketchikan School District finished what administration claims was a redundant exercise this week when they were put through a background check and had their fingerprints recorded.

New state rules require teachers and paraprofessionals in district preschools to meet security regulations above what the district requires of the rest of its certified teaching staff — whose fingerprints are collected and backgrounds are checked when they’re certified.

Paraprofessionals are vetted, but their fingerprints are usually not collected.

With a mid-December deadline, the district was required to put 31 staff members, many of whom already had been certified, through the state’s process.

Schools Superintendent Robert Boyle claims the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s regulations don’t add up. The district was alerted in May that it would have to meet the new standards, which then applied to everyone involved in preschools — including bus drivers (whose backgrounds are checked by their employer) and potentially members of the Ketchikan School Board, Boyle said on Thursday.

"I?looked at this and said, ‘This is so stupid that there’s no way we’re going to have to comply with it," he said. "They’ve taken the concept of fingerprinting, and said that it’s a higher standard than certification."

Boyle said he believes it should be the other way around.

The district protested, arguing that bus drivers are vetted by First Student, which contracts with the district to provide bus service. The state eventually notified the district that bus drivers and board members wouldn’t be subject to the new checks.

The issue was made public at the School Board’s Wednesday meeting. Boyle said then that with the new regulations, school principals aren’t qualified to watch preschool classrooms without a teacher or a paraprofessional who has been put through the new process in the room.

"It really seems to be quite a boondoggle," Boyle said.

He told the School Board that the district spent about $7,000 performing additional background checks and collecting fingerprints. Alaska Ink, the downtown tattoo shop, was called to his office this week to collect the prints.

The district plans to make copies of the invoices to send to department Commissioner Mike Hanley and state Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, who sits on the Senate Education Committee.

District preschool classrooms, located in most elementary schools and the Pioneer Home, are led by a certified teacher and a paraprofessional. The program is administered through the Special Services Department.