Featured News 2011 How Pennsylvania’s Act 24 Affects Criminals

How Pennsylvania’s Act 24 Affects Criminals

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania's governor signed into law a new act, changing the regulations pertaining to background checks at all school entities. The new act, Act 24 of 2011, was signed into law on June 30 by Governor Tom Corbett. The amendment affects section 111 of the Public School Code of 1949. It went into effect on September 28, 2011.

Under the new amendment, school entities are still required to conduct a criminal background check and a child abuse clearance check before hiring a new employee. This law pertains to all school entities, including all public schools, private schools, charter schools, vo-tech schools and intermediate schools. Before the amendment to the code was signed into a law, applicants found to have been convicted of any of the prohibited crimes listed in the Public School Code, mostly crimes that are violent or sexual in nature, would be banned from being hired within five years of their conviction. Under the new amendment, any person convicted of one of the listed offenses is forever prohibited from working in a school entity.

In addition, for any applicant who was a convicted of any felony offense not included in the list of permanent offenses is banned from school employment for 10 years following the end of their sentence—not conviction—and for five years following the end of their sentence—not conviction—for a first-degree misdemeanor.

Under the new amendment, school entities are also required to obtain statements from all current employees regarding whether or not they have been convicted of a crime or child abuse in the past. If any employee of any school entity fails or refuses to disclose a previous conviction he or she will be subject to criminal penalties and prosecution. Furthermore, the new amendment states that any current employee of a school entity who is convicted of a crime included in the list of prohibited offenses will be fired immediately from their position.

Lastly, the amendment expands the list of crimes that permanently ban someone from gaining employment in a school. The new crimes added to list include luring a child into a motor vehicle or structure, institutional sexual assault, sexual intercourse with an animal, unlawful contact with a minor, solicitation of a minor to traffic drugs and sexual exploitation of children.

While few could argue against the new amendment and its purpose of keeping schools' children safer, some school employees and teachers' unions have voiced concern that some of the stipulations listed in the amendment leave school officials and employees in a gray area. Ideally, the Department of Education would like for any employee who answers "yes" to having been arrested or convicted of a crime included in the list of prohibited offenses to be fired. However, there is a big difference between being arrested for a crime and being fired. Both the existing code and the new amendment do not include employment disqualification or termination for people who have been arrested, but not convicted of a prohibited offense. This discrepancy between being arrested for a prohibited offense and being convicted of a prohibited offense has one of Pennsylvania's largest teachers unions suggesting to its members to refrain from filling out the form required by the state. However, if any employee fails to submit the form, they are required to submit to a criminal background check on their own dollar—not an ideal situation either. Furthermore, school employees will also have to foot the bill for a criminal background check if the school or district questions the truthfulness of the information included in their form.

Despite any issues teachers' unions and current employees may have with some regulations set forth by the new amendment, all school entities must be in compliance with the new law by December 27, 2010.

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