OKLAHOMA CAPITOL – Oklahoma schools could increase school safety and security by expanding the use of fingerprint background checks of adults who regularly interact with students, according to one state lawmaker.
House Bill 2228, by state Rep. Joe Dorman, would allow schools to authorize fingerprint background checks on anyone interacting with students in school-sponsored activities, including volunteers. Currently, schools cannot conduct these checks unless specifically authorized by state law.
The legislation was approved by the House Public Safety Committee and now advances to the House Calendar Committee.
“I have consulted with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and local school administrators on the need for this legislation,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “I feel we need to better protect our students from pedophiles and other criminals who are slipping through the cracks by providing false identities to schools.”
Last year, House lawmakers approved a similar bill, but it did not make it to the governor’s desk. This modified bill address concerns expressed last year by lawmakers in opposition, Dorman said.
State Sen. Kyle Loveless, who will carry the legislation in the Senate, said that parents who entrust their kids to public schools expect their children to be in a safe environment.
“At the legislature, not only are we responsible for providing our students with the highest quality of education, but we must also look out for their safety while at school,” said Loveless, R-Oklahoma City. “This bill will help ensure that those working with and around our students are not criminals or people who would put our youth’s safety in danger. I’m hopeful that this bill makes its way through the legislative process quickly so schools can start instituting this important safety measure.”
OSBI provided information showing individuals have applied for employment at schools in previous years by providing falsified identities in order to seek a job. Those applying for jobs must submit to this type of background check, but schools are not currently allowed to apply this type of background check to volunteers due to federal prohibitions requiring authorization by the state. Oklahoma law does not provide this option, but House Bill 2228 corrects that, Dorman said.
“House Bill 2228, nicknamed the Protect Against Pedophiles Act, is not a mandate, but voluntary,” Dorman said. “The use of this type of background check will be up to the discretion of the local school administration and costs associated with the background check will be assumed by the school district if they decide there is a need to do background checks of this nature.”
Thursday, Feb. 28 is the final day for committee approval of House bills.