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Legal Updates

Massachusetts Schools: Employee And Point Of Contact Fingerprinting Has Begun

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) has begun sending schools information about the Statewide Applicant Fingerprint Identification Services (“SAFIS”) for Points of Contact and for employees hired for the 2013-2014 school year.  MorphoTrust USA IndentoGo™ (“MorphoTrust”) has been selected by DESE to implement SAFIS, and the vendor is now processing online registration for fingerprinting appointments.

While we are still awaiting DESE’s updates to the model fingerprint-based check policy, below are highlights of the steps that we recommend that all independent schools undertake now in connection with fingerprint-based checks of employees and Points of Contact.

1.  Fingerprint Checks For Points Of Contact

Schools should already have identified the individuals who will be responsible for reviewing the results of the fingerprint-based checks (the “Points of Contact”) (akin to a CORI reviewer designated by the school) as part of the registration process with SAFIS.  Points of Contact should now be making appointments with MorphoTrust to have their fingerprints scanned.  Schools will not be able to receive and process information regarding covered employees’ fingerprint-based checks until Points of Contact have been cleared through the system.  Because there are currently just a few vendor sites established for scanning fingerprints in Massachusetts (though approximately 30 such sites are planned), Points of Contact may have to travel one hour or more to the nearest fingerprint-check site.

2.  Identify Covered Employees

First, identify all (1) employees, substitute employees, student teachers, and interns who may have direct and unmonitored contact with children, and (2) individuals who regularly provide school-related transportation to children (collectively referred to herein as “Employees”) who began work during the 2013-2014 school year only (defined as starting employment after July 1, 2013).  Employees who have worked at a school since before that date will be fingerprinted based on a schedule not yet released by DESE.

If the school has conducted CORI checks on such Employees, and their CORI results do not preclude employment, then these Employees are required to proceed with the fingerprinting process via SAFIS (as described further below).  If an Employee has not yet been successfully CORI checked, then the Employee must be CORI checked before undergoing a fingerprint-based check, as CORI results alone may preclude employment.

3.  Employee Registration For Fingerprinting
Schools should notify Employees and the Points of Contact to register and make an appointment for a fingerprint-based check through MorphoTrust.

It is important that schools instruct Employees to review two important documents: (a) the SAFIS Registration Guide for PreK-12th Grade Education; and (b) How to Change, Correct, or Update Your National Criminal History Record Response.  In addition, schools should provide Employees with the 8-digit DESE organizational code already issued to each school, which Employees will use as the “Provider ID” during the registration process.

As of now, it appears that a consent form to authorize the collection of fingerprints will be provided via SAFIS/MorphoTrust (i.e., “Acknowledgement/Release form”) as part of the registration process.  However, we recommend that independent schools consider having Employees and Points of Contact sign an authorization and consent form provided by the school so that schools will have the benefit of the protections offered by such consent and authorization.  (An E-Alert published by Schwartz Hannum discussing criminal background check compliance in general can be found here).

After an Employee completes the fingerprint enrollment appointment, MorphoTrust will send a receipt to the Employee.  The school’s designated Point of Contact should obtain a copy of this receipt from each Employee.  The receipt will provide the school with confirmation that the fingerprints were captured and will also include important reference information should the school need assistance from the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (“DCJIS”) with regard to the fingerprint-based check.

4.  Establish A Background Check Policy
If your school does not have a general background check policy in place, now is the time to implement this policy, which should include policies and procedures for fingerprint-based checks and any other relevant background checks (CORI, SORI, motor vehicle, credit reports, drug testing, etc.) that an independent school may perform on applicants, employees, volunteers, and contractors.  Such a policy should include, at a minimum, provisions that address: consent and authorization for background checks, notifying employees of findings of concern, permitting employees to contest background check results, taking adverse employment action based on the results, and disseminating and storing background check information.

5.  Post-Fingerprinting
DCJIS will send fingerprint-based check results to the designated Point of Contact for each school, through the SecureMail system.  As of now, results are arriving within one or two business days.
Before taking an adverse action based on fingerprint-based criminal history check results, schools must: (a) comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations, (b) notify the Employee, (c) provide a copy of the fingerprint-based check results to the Employee, (d) provide a copy of the fingerprint-based check policy to the Employee, (e) identify the information in the Employee’s fingerprint-based check results that is the basis for the potential determination, (f) provide the Employee with the opportunity to dispute the accuracy of the information contained in the fingerprint-based check results, (g) provide the Employee with a copy of Massachusetts and FBI information regarding the process for correcting the fingerprint-based check information, and (h) document all steps taken to comply with applicable regulations.


The Firm will continue to monitor further developments regarding implementation of the fingerprinting system, and we will provide updates as they become available.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about this process, background check requirements in general, or have interest in updating your school’s background check policy, consent and authorization forms, or seek assistance with a background check compliance package, please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Firm’s education practice group.