Teachers will be notified as to when process will begin

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Alice Independent School District certified employees, along with other state educators, will be called on to submit their fingerprints within the next three years to fulfill the new state requirements set by Senate Bill 9 last year.

SB 9 requires fingerprints from both certified and non-certified education employees, which will be used in national history criminal background checks. All non-certified school employees hired after Jan. 1, 2008 will be fingerprinted, and all employees in the district will be fingerprinted by Sept. 1, 2011.

School districts will be called to have their employees fingerprinted. Austin ISD is the first district this year called to have its employees certified, and is considered a test district and a template for other districts to follow.

Javier Cavazos, director of personnel for Alice ISD, said two sites have been set up in Corpus Christi and Kingsville to provide digital fingerprinting services.

Saenz Elementary School kindergarten teacher Vanessa Ramos said she felt SB 9 will help increase security within Texas schools.

She was fingerprinted when she entered the profession in 2003.

Ramos said she wasn't nervous during the fingerprinting process, although her experience of being fingerprinted in college included a trip through the Kleberg county jail to reach the fingerprinting area.

Ramos said other teachers relatively new to the district received their fingerprinting from security staff within the district.

"It's more comfortable that way, in an open area. Being fingerprinted in the jail setting can be a little unsettling," Ramos said.

She said teachers are unaware of their co-workers' pasts, and that an extensive criminal background check would be a good way to make campuses safer.

"Also, as far as I'm aware, with this law, if you have some sort of record, there is an opportunity there to defend yourself before a committee. It's not just if you have a record you can never be a teacher ever or never work with kids. You're offered the opportunity to come forward and explain yourself," Ramos said.

"In the news, you see things happening involving teachers or other school staff and for the students and for the safety of everyone involved, you want to know what's going on with all the individuals."

Fellow teacher Annabella Briones said the fingerprinting will improve campus safety by checking new teachers and other employees coming into the district.

"The teachers will be more at ease I think, knowing that the people they're working with do not have a criminal history," she said.

Briones is a first-grade teacher and a 27-year veteran at Saenz Elementary School. She will be among the large group of experienced teachers at Alice ISD who have never been fingerprinted, when the district is notified by the state to begin the fingerprinting process. Briones said she's not nervous about the fingerprinting process, and was glad the testing would take place nearby at the Regional Education Service Center.

Certified teachers who entered the profession between 2003 and 2006 have already been fingerprinted through the Highly Qualified Teacher Program. Cavazos said those teachers who entered between 2006 and 2007 will have their fingerprinting paid for by the district. Certified educators who entered the profession before 2003, as the law stands right now, Cavazos said, will have to pay for the fingerprinting serve, which costs $52.

The teachers will be contacted personally. Once notified about the fingerprinting request, teachers will have 80 days to have their fingerprints taken.

The process will not begin for certified employees until the state notifies the school district their fingerprint time is approaching, Cavazos said.

"Eventually, everybody who comes within direct contact with the students will be fingerprinted," Cavazos said.

Those required by Senate Bill 9 to

submit fingerprint

information:

1.All certified educators, those holding an educator certification issued by the State Board for Educator Certification.

2.All classroom substitute teachers and aides, whether certified or not.

3.Noncertified employees hired by a district on or after Jan. 1, 2008.