Fingerprinting finds educators with criminal records



Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:38 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 6:36 PM

Teacher Checks

Jason Whitely reports

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DALLAS - Through months of fingerprinting, the Dallas Independent School District and the Texas Education Agency have provided a clearer picture of who is teaching North Texas students.

As of Tuesday, DISD said it has fingerprinted 10,305 certified employees, teachers and principals while complying with a new state law that went into effect January 1, 2008.

"Nothing that has happened on this has been out of the unexpected," said Jon Dahlander, a DISD spokesman.

But of the thousands Dallas checked, about 13 percent - or a little more than 1,300 Dallas educators - have criminal records that were found in the national search.

While most of the records were misdemeanors the district said they already were aware of, fingerprinting also uncovered at least 20 or so serious charges some educators kept secret from DISD. Those employees now face termination, the district said.

Dahlander said eight people quit after the discoveries were revealed.

"Twelve of them are going through the termination process," he said of the rest.

DISD did not specify the worst charges it discovered. But for the first time, the Texas Education Agency gave a better indication.

Statewide, the agency is now investigating educators for crimes that include sexual misconduct, violence, burglary and drugs. The probes have been initiated primarily because of what the fingerprints found.

However, the Austin Independent School District is fighting in court to keep the public from knowing even the number of its educators with criminal backgrounds. The Texas attorney general said the public does not have the right to know.

"The system's working," said Allen Gwinn, a DISD critic and blogger. "The fingerprinting is doing what it was designed to do."

News 8 learned 128,492 educators were fingerprinted from January 1 through October 31 in 163 school districts - Dallas being the largest.

Of those fingerprinted, 14,159 educators had criminal records. Not a single certificate or license to teach has been revoked by the TEA.

"That would be extremely surprising [that] out of the pool of people they have found who have criminal histories that they haven't found any worthy of a revocation," Gwinn said.

It is still uncertain why that hasn't happened. Though the legal process - said to be slow - is reportedly under way in some cases. DISD said it has already removed educators from a couple of classrooms.

Teachers have until December 18 to complete the final phase of fingerprinting. Failing to do so will result in the State Board of Educator Certification pulling that individual's certificate.

The Fort Worth Independent School District has yet to begin fingerprinting.

State law requires every school district to complete fingerprinting by September 2011.