New Hanover County Schools begins fingerprinting new hires

NC still does not have statewide requirements; employee screening left up to school districts
New Hanover County Schools begins fingerprinting new hires
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 11:28 AM EDT|Updated: May. 12, 2022 at 10:23 AM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - There has been a significant policy change for New Hanover County Schools, and it’s meant to better protect students.

The district officially started fingerprinting new hires as part of its background check process. This comes at a time when the district is being sued, accused of failing to stop teachers from sexually abusing students, despite warning signs and complaints from parents about concerning behavior by some teachers.

“Effective immediately New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) is requiring that all external new hires be fingerprinted at the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (NHCSO),” a memo from Superintendent Charles Foust reads.

Fingerprinting started in April, after the School Board voted to update the policy.

“A final candidate for employment shall be asked to consent to being fingerprinted and providing any other identifying information required for purposes of checking the candidate’s criminal history from the State and National Repositories of Criminal Histories by the Department of Public Safety,” the updated policy reads. “The board of education shall consider refusal to consent when making employment decisions.”

WECT has been reporting since 2018 on weak teacher background checks in North Carolina. A USA Today investigation gave the state an “F” when it came to its tracking system for problem teachers. North Carolina specifically lost points for leaving screening guidelines up to local school districts. At the time, most North Carolina school districts did not fingerprint teaching applicants.

“Right now in state law, it is the responsibility of the local boards of education to have a policy about background checks, not just for educators but for any school-based employee. So we’ve got a patchwork of how they do that, who gets those background checks, and it varies statewide,” Drew Elliot, a former spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction during an interview in 2018. “What we’d like to see is a standardized process, including fingerprinting, for these people who are going to be with some of the most vulnerable in our community, for long periods of time. And almost all educators are very professional and would never dream of doing anything, but we’ve got to look out for the ones who do.”

Several lawmakers tried and failed to pass legislation that would require fingerprinting educators statewide.

In Southeastern North Carolina, New Hanover and Bladen are the only school districts requiring fingerprints for new hires. Brunswick, Pender, Columbus Counties and Whiteville City Schools still don’t require it.

Under the new policy, NHCS covers the cost of fingerprinting for new hires. The NHCSO is paid $10 per applicant, and the SBI is paid another $38 per applicant. In additions, NHCS pays Background Investigation Bureau (BIB) an average of $14 per employee, to monitor all school employees and volunteers who are criminally charged as well as the background investigation program for all external new hires.

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