School District Mishandles New Act 153 Background Check Law


by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s amended background check requirements do not align with new state law.

The Philadelphia School District sent out an email late Friday afternoon explaining that all District employees hired on or before December 31, 2014 must obtain updated clearances under Act 153 by November 30, 2015.

“The school district is requiring you to obtain updated clearances even if your current clearances were obtained less than 36 months ago to ensure compliance with the Act going forward,” the email stated.

The only problem is, that’s not what the new Act 153 law requires.

According to the Pennsylvania State Education Association:

  • If one or more of your background checks was issued between Dec. 31, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2014, each document renewal is due by its five-year anniversary date of issue.
  •  If all three background checks were issued Dec. 30, 2009 or earlier, these document renewals are due by Dec. 31, 2015.
  •  If you have no background checks because you have been continuously employed prior to Jan. 1, 1986 (the first date a background check was required), you must obtain all three documents by Dec. 31, 2015.

(A very helpful flowchart of the new Act 153 law can be found here.)

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan delivered a letter to Superintendent William Hite questioning the District’s background check requirements:

The District’s approach presents multiple concerns. Although not required by law, the District is requiring anyone who was hired on or before December 31, 2014 to obtain new clearances within the next seven weeks. This means that an employee hired, for example, in August of 2014 and who obtained all the requisite clearances at that time is now required to obtain those clearances again despite having just gotten them months ago. Under the law, such an employee would have until August 2019 to obtain those clearances.

Indeed, it appears as if the District is mishandling the new Act 153 background check law. It’s not just that the District informed its employees of the requirements in a Friday-news-dump style email, but because they waited until October 9 to send out this message—seven weeks before the November 30 deadline.

“Failure to comply with this State of Pennsylvania mandated requirement could result in disciplinary action or your inability to remain in an active employee status,” the District states on its website.

But again, the District’s deadline is not in accordance with PA state law.

Why would the District unnecessarily require ALL employees hired on or before December 31, 2014 to obtain new clearances, even if many of these employees have valid background checks that don’t expire for up to four years?

The District claims it’s so they can track their employees’ renewed clearances:

Currently, the District has no way to track individual clearance expiration dates.  The only way we can comply with the law is to create accurate tracking as employees provide renewed clearances.

The new cycle system will allow the District to track and notify employees of their clearance status with the District, and, by extension, ensure compliance with Act 153 now and in the future.

But this isn’t necessarily true, either. The District could solve this “tracking” problem by allowing any District employee who possesses clearances issued between December 31, 2011, and December 31, 2014 (which remain valid 60 months from their issuance), to resubmit them to the District, which would provide the District with an expiration date; there is no need for these employees to pay for new clearances. Any employee who doesn’t have copies of their valid background checks—or any employee whose clearances have expired by PA state law—would have to obtain new clearances.

Perhaps Dr. Hite and the Office of Talent might consider such a plan? This would cut down on the paperwork backlog in Harrisburg, and collectively save thousands of dollars in application fees—money that could be better spent in the classroom where it’s needed.

11 thoughts on “School District Mishandles New Act 153 Background Check Law

    • Let me get this straight, oh highly intelligent one. We do what the law requires us to do while the school district can’t interpret specific directions from the State and we are losing credibility? You lost with me!

  1. The agenda is to impose an unrealistic timeline that many will not be able to meet, so that new (read cheaper) hires can replace those fired for failing to meet the requirement. Considering the letter was sent out on Friday evening, October 9, a huge backlog in the FBI fingerprint system will be caused by having thousands of people applying at once. Many will not be processed by the artificial November 30 deadline. This is not enough notice and not in agreement with state law. This is NOT petty quibbling by the PFT.

  2. I got into some trouble when I was 17, however I did what I was supposed to do for 3 years of probation. My record was supposed to have been expunged. I got criminal record and child abuse clearance every year that I worked for the school district of Philadelphia, approx 6 years. Never had a problem. Moved to N.J. was about to be promoted to a management position, when suddenly my “felony conviction” gets me fired! I have since received a pardon from the Governor, but it really makes me wonder about the school districts ability to keep our kids safe.

  3. I don’t understand how the money would be better spent in the classrooms as, anyone working for the district has to pay for these checks out of his or her own pocket.

    • I have never heard before that an employee has to pay for background checks. I’ve only known for the employer to pay for this.

    • So many of us buy things for the classroom out of our own pockets. The point being made is that if those who buy things with their own money now have to spend X amount of dollars on renewing clearances, that may be X money less that they can spend on things for the classroom.

    • Because it’s the teachers that are having to pay for things the school district use to pay for back in the day. Volunteer in a classroom sometime and see what is really going on, not just what Hite and his pals tell you.

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