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Siegelman signs teacher background checks legislation

Special to The Messenger

Montgomery – Gov. Don Siegelman signed legislation Wednesday that will require national criminal background checks for Alabama’s teachers and other education employees.

"Parents must be assured that, when they leave their children at school, they are left in the safest hands possible," Siegelman said.

The new law mandates criminal background checks for all current and prospective public and private education personnel with unsupervised access to children.

The law also requires the State Superintendent of Education to review the criminal history background information reports.

Once State Department of Education officials review information on arrests and convictions, they will declare each applicant and current employee either suitable or not suitable for employment and notify local school systems of the proposed suitability determinations.

Any applicant or current employee who is declared unsuitable for employment will be afforded an administrative hearing process to challenge the determination.

The law further requires that all prospective and current employees be fingerprinted, a necessary preliminary step to conducting the criminal background checks.

The state will use funds from the national tobacco settlement to pay for the background checks for current employees.

New applicants for education jobs will be required to pay the $49 cost for the checks.

Siegelman has long fought for the safety of our schoolchildren.

In 1999, Siegelman achieved increased school safety through passage of legislation requiring teacher background checks for all new teachers.

That legislation, which required new school employees with unsupervised access to children to be fingerprinted and undergo national criminal background checks, stopped short of mandating checks on current teachers and education personnel as well.

The new law, Senate Bill 21, passed the Senate 30-0 on Mar. 7 and passed the House 100-0 on Apr. 17. The law becomes effective July 1.