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Meeting of the Board of Regents | December 2007

Saturday, December 1, 2007 - 9:00am

sed seal                                                                                                 







Johanna Duncan-Poitier


Strengthening Student Safety


November 29, 2007


Goal 3






Issues for Decision 

Given the importance of school safety, should the Regents approve the following prevention and enforcement measures as part of the Board’s Priority Legislative and Budget initiatives:

  • A Priority Legislative proposal that would provide for the automatic suspension and subsequent revocation of a teaching certificate upon proof of a conviction for a sex offense;
  • Additional resources for the Department to improve its ability to carry-out the statutorily mandated responsibilities related to the processing and review of fingerprint supported criminal background checks and the investigation and prosecution of discipline cases; and
  • An $850,000 request (to be included in the Department’s 2008-09 budget proposal) focused on prevention through the provision of training and professional development to teachers and school employees on appropriate interactions with students, as well as the development of pre- and post-certification curricula and materials on appropriate teacher-student boundaries and ethics?

Reason(s) for Consideration


Review of Policy. 

Proposed Handling 


The question will come before the Higher Education and Professional Practice Committee at its December 2007 meeting where it will be voted on and action taken.  It will then come before the full Board at its December 2007 meeting for final action. 


Procedural History 


Background Information 

Subsequent to the October approval by the Board of Regents of their 2008-09 Budget and Legislative Priorities, members of the Board discussed the possibility of including a sixth priority related to the issue of student safety. The Department has developed a three-pronged approach to this issue which includes prevention; enhancement of the Department’s capacity to carry-out the fingerprint-supported criminal history checks for school employees and the investigation and prosecution of discipline cases; and the authority to summarily suspend and subsequently revoke the certificates of individuals who have been convicted of sex-related crimes. 

The Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability (OSPRA) was established within the Office of Teaching Initiatives to implement the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) legislation (Chapter 180 of the Laws of 2000).  OSPRA is also responsible for dealing with moral character investigations and revocation proceedings against certified educators and the Teacher Tenure Hearing Unit, which handles the administrative portion of Education Law §3020-a proceedings. 

The SAVE legislation requires that applicants for teaching and administrative certification and prospective employees of covered schools (school districts, charter schools, and BOCES) undergo a fingerprint-supported criminal history background check. Approximately seventy-five percent of the successful cases against certified educators by the Office involve sex related offenses, including but not limited to inappropriate touching, child pornography, pornography in the classroom, lewd behavior, etc. 

Stronger prevention and enforcement measures are needed to ensure the safety of students. The Department is proposing three such measures: 

1. Statutory authority for the Department to automatically suspend and subsequently revoke teaching certificates of individuals who are convicted of sex-related crimes that are subject to the registration requirements of the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA).   

Unlike the process for summary suspensions in the licensed professions, no authority currently exists for the Department to immediately suspend a teaching certificate which means that individuals who are convicted of crimes (including sex- related crimes), are entitled to hold their teaching certificate(s) until a proceeding is commenced pursuant to the moral character provisions in Commissioner’s Regulations (8 NYCRR Part 83).  That process involves the following steps: 

  • investigating reports of convictions
  • preparing a report to be presented to the Professional Practices and Standards Board with a recommendation for a hearing
  • drafting charges that raise a substantial question of moral character
  • serving the charges on the certificate holder
  • proving the charges (or the conviction) at a hearing before a hearing officer or panel (at the discretion of the certificate holder)
  • implementing the decision of the hearing officer or panel which can provide for a range of penalties including no action, imposition of a fine, or suspension or revocation of the teaching certificate

If the Department had the authority to automatically suspend the certificates of individuals who have been convicted of sex-related crimes, it would not only provide for expedited removal of these individuals from the classroom and school districts’ payrolls, but would also permit the limited resources in OSPRA to be used for cases that necessitate further investigation and due process proceedings.   


2. Resources to increase the Department’s capacity to carry-out its statutory mandates. 

Between 2001, when the Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability was created, and 2007, there has been a 400% increase in the number of complaints made against teachers to that office with no corresponding increase in resources for investigation and prosecution.  

The law has also been amended two times since the implementation of the fingerprinting requirement to expand the population of the individuals subject to the fingerprinting requirement with no corresponding increase in the funding for OSPRA operations.  In 2003, the fingerprinting requirement was expanded to include Supplemental Education Services Providers, and, as of July 2007, the employees of private schools and non-public schools can be required to undergo the same background checks as their public school employee counterparts.   

A comparison of staffing resources between the Education Department and four other New York State agencies that have responsibility for processing fingerprints shows that while the volume of fingerprints processed annually is highest for the Education Department, staffing resources are the lowest.   

Fingerprinting Staffing Comparison

Among State Agencies Responsible for Fingerprint Processing 



Agency 1

Agency 2

Agency 3

Agency 4

Number of Fingerprints Processed Annually






Rap Sheet Review and Clearance Process






Investigative Staff


















Processing/Clerical Support Staff






Total Staff








Annual requests for increased funding for OSPRA to effectively manage the increasing caseload in fingerprint screening and enforcement of discipline complaints, the requests have not been granted.   

The Department currently receives a $1 million General Fund appropriation for OSPRA.  There is also a statutory-based fee of $94.25 imposed upon each applicant for certification, however the Department is not allowed to retain any of that fee-based revenue, it is all forwarded to the Division of Criminal Justice Services. This year, we propose seeking an additional $600,000 to support the statutorily mandated work that OSPRA does concerning fingerprint screening, investigations and prosecutions.  This additional funding could be provided either through an increase in the General Fund appropriation or through a statutory increase of $16 in the fee charged to applicants, raising the total fee paid by each applicant to $110.25.  The additional $16 per applicant would be used to create a special revenue account to provide the necessary capacity within the Department to conduct investigations more expeditiously and prosecute more cases that involve teachers and other school employees who pose risks to student safety.  


3.   Prevention initiatives. 

In addition to strengthening enforcement, the Department needs to focus on prevention in the first instance.   The Department is proposing an amendment to the Department’s 2008-2009 budget request that would provide General Fund resources for OSPRA in the amount of $850,000 for prevention initiatives. This appropriation would fund an initiative focused on preventing instances of inappropriate teacher-student interactions by providing training and professional development to teachers and school employees on appropriate interactions with students, as well as the development of pre- and post-certification curricula and materials on appropriate teacher-student boundaries and ethics. The Department will collaborate with other enforcement agencies as well as colleges and other interested parties to develop a comprehensive ethics and boundary curriculum to be delivered through the colleges as part of a certification requirement and to be delivered post certification as part of the professional development requirement for educators.  

This type of mandatory training in ethics and boundary issues has been in existence for many of the licensed professions for many years.   As the number of cases involving boundary violations continues to rise, it is clear that New York State needs to be proactive in efforts to prevent this behavior from happening in the first instance.  Development and implementation of a comprehensive curriculum addressing boundary and ethics issues will provide a crucial foundation upon which to build a safer learning environment.  The provision of additional funding for adequate enforcement will ensure that the environment remains safe.


It is recommended that the Board of Regents approve the three components of this initiative to strengthen student safety.   

Timetable for Implementation