State Education Department

Criminal History Background Checks for School Employees

Applicants for teaching and most other positions in New York’s public schools must be checked for criminal histories by the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and the FBI. Outside New York City, these criminal history background checks are coordinated and overseen by the State Education Department. We examined the Department’s oversight of this process and found that improvements were needed, as the background checks were sometimes subject to long delays. Since individuals could be hired, conditionally, before their background checks were completed, there was a risk that individuals with inappropriate criminal backgrounds could have extended contact with students while their background checks were still pending.

When we initiated our audit, we identified more than 400 background checks that had been in process for an average of at least eight months. Since the Department was not monitoring the background checks, it did not know that the checks were still in process and many could not be completed because of data transmission failures or blurred fingerprint images. These background checks were only completed because we intervened and asked the Department to follow up with the FBI and DCJS. When the background checks were finally completed, we determined that at least 157 of the 469 applicants had been hired before their background checks were completed, 30 of the 157 had some kind of criminal history, and one of the 30 would not have been cleared to work in schools if the background check had been completed before the applicant was hired.

We recommended that the Department actively monitor whether background checks were being completed in a timely manner and take appropriate action when they were not. In addition, since schools were sometimes inappropriately hiring applicants before requesting background checks, we recommended that the Department remind the schools of their obligation to request background checks promptly.

For a complete copy of Report 2007-S-119 click here.
For a copy of the associated follow-up report click here.