The London Free Press
Monday, February 22, 1999

Unions blast fingerprinting of teachers

by Hank Daniszewski

Teachers' unions are crying foul over a new rule forcing some new teachers to be fingerprinted to work in the classroom.

"It's demeaning", said Debbie Rosebrugh, president of the Elgin unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.

"To me, the only people we fingerprint are criminals", she said.

Peter Chapman, London-area president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, said he supports screening out anyone convicted of serious crime such as child molestation.

But "I think there's a connotation to being fingerprinted that's not pleasant", he said, "and I wish that London would change its method for doing that check . . ."

Since Jan. 1, the governing body for Ontario teachers, the Ontario College of Teachers, has required all graduate teachers to submit documentation on criminal records before they can be certified to teach in Ontario schools.

The check isn't required for teachers certified before Jan. 1.

But while some police forces can provide the documentation by checking computer records, the fingerprint problem is that others -- including forces in London and Toronto -- don't offer the service.

Instead, people in those centres are directed to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which requires a thumbprint as part of its record-check process.

The London service is handled through the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, an agent for the Mounties.

Student teachers seem divided on the fingerprinting issue, said Sharon Kelly, student council president at University of Western's Ontario's education faculty.

"There are some people who are upset and think it is demeaning", she said. "But others are supportive, saying they want the best people in the profession."

Kelly said she had her check done by Ontario Provincial Police in Sebringville and wasn't printed but doesn't object to the idea.

Student teacher Todd Goodwin, fingerprinted in London, said his application for a teaching certificate will include the record-check document. But he won't send a second page with his fingerprints.

"It's not right. Why do they need to have our fingerprints? Why doesn't every profession have to be fingerprinted?" he said.

Two other major professions in Ontario, lawyers and doctors, don't require criminal record checks of new members.

But law students applying for admission to the bar must complete a questionaire disclosing criminal convictions. And the doctors' governing body recently approved a policy requiring disclosure of convictions "relevant to the member's ability to practise".

Allen Pearson, UWO's dean of education, supports the criminal-record check rule for teachers.

"It's a legitimate expectation for a person working with children to submit to this kind of check."

Still, Pearson said the Ontario procedure should be consistent.

"If everyone had to submit to fingerprinting it wouldn't bother me. But the fact some people have more of a hassle bothers me."

Rosebrugh and Chapman said they're concerned that the College of Teachers may deny a certificate on a minor criminal charge because there are no clear criteria.

The college registrar has discretion to deny a teaching certificate based on a criminal record, but there's an understanding it would have to be "serious", said college spokesperson Denys Giguere.

He said the college knew the new criminal checks could involve fingerprints, but said the process will be reviewed in a year.

In London, the commissionaires do about 15 to 20 fingerprints a day for people needing security checks for work, a spokesperson said. Included are bank employees and people working with youths.

Copyright © 1999 by The London Free Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.