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Editorial

Fingerprinting school employees is overdue

The national debate over the fingerprinting of teachers, school administrators, bus drivers, child care workers, and other school-related employees ended a decade ago. There is a clear consensus that the potential to prevent child abuse outweighs the privacy concerns of staffers. Still, Massachusetts didn’t manage to enact a fingerprint law until a year ago, and only now are school districts getting down to the business of collecting fingerprints.

The stigma attached to fingerprinting is no more. Workers in casinos, public housing personnel, and liquor license applicants around the country are among those in non-criminal settings who submit their fingerprints to an FBI database. An even stronger case for verifying identity through fingerprints can be made for people who work with children — especially when unmonitored. Taking this step makes it harder for people with criminal pasts in other states to gain positions in Massachusetts schools, and vice versa.

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No one seems quite sure why Massachusetts was the last state to adopt such a system. School employee unions are not raising objections; they plainly see the weakness of the current system that limits criminal background checks to offenses inside Massachusetts. The bill practically flew through the Legislature after state Representative Alice Peisch, who chairs the education committee, filed it.

State education and public safety officials need to ensure that implementation goes quickly. That requires more than the current handful of fingerprinting sites available. Mobile vans would be an efficient way to ensure that school employees meet the fall 2016 deadline to submit their prints.

Schools are far from rife with clandestine criminals. But verifying the identities of staffers against a national database is a crucial step to keep students safe.

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