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Update on Act 153 Background Checks

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

 

During the summer, Pennsylvania legislature made changes to Act 153, the state law mandating criminal background checks for all employees who have contact with minors. The following message was sent to all employees. We're sharing it here in case you missed it.

 

A new University Policy - the Protection of Minors Policy - was adopted by the Board of Trustees at its June meeting. The Policy appears on the University Policies website at: http://www.lehigh.edu/~policy/. Parts of the new Policy are required by a Pennsylvania law, Act 153, which was amended on July 1st. We want to inform you that we are taking steps to evaluate how these legislative amendments impact the new University Policy. The Protection of Minors Policy was drafted with input from a committee formed in 2013 pursuant to the policy-making process of the University Policy Structure. The committee was formed in recognition of the need for a University policy and procedures to protect minors who participate in programs, activities and events on campus, in University facilities, or sponsored by the University at off-campus locations. Colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and other states have adopted similar policies in the wake of the tragic child abuse incidents involving former assistant football coach Gerald Sandusky at Penn State University which were investigated and prosecuted in 2011-2012.

The Pennsylvania state legislature in October 2014 enacted Pennsylvania Act 153, an extensive amendment to the Commonwealth's Child Protective Services Law, during the time that the Protection of Minors Policy Committee was drafting the new Policy. Act 153 required, among various provisions, mandatory reporting of incidents of child abuse that come to the attention of "School Employees" (which includes employees of colleges and universities), and mandatory training and criminal background checks of School Employees. While Act 153 became effective January 1, 2015, concerns were immediately raised and amendments to the law were sought by Pennsylvania higher education institutions and other non-profit organizations because of the scope and impact of various provisions. Among these, the term "minor" included college and university students under the age of 18 and the term "direct contact with minors" was unclear and difficult to apply from a practical standpoint.

As a result of these concerns, on July 1, 2015, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted amendments excluding from the term "direct contact with minors" contact with matriculated college and university students between 16 and 18 years of age and excluding certain administrative and support personnel without direct contact with minors from the term "School Employees."

We have received from faculty and staff questions regarding the provisions of the new University Protection of Minors Policy that require criminal background checks of all faculty and staff. The July 1st amendments to Act 153 allow for (but do not legally require) modification of some of these provisions.

The Protection of Minors Policy is a University Policy adopted by the Board of Trustees. Any amendment to the Policy must be approved by the Board of Trustees. We are formulating a proposal for amendment of the Protection of Minors Policy which, like the original Policy, will be reviewed pursuant to the consultative process in the University Policy Structure and then presented for consideration by the Board of Trustees. In the meantime, we are temporarily suspending implementation of some components of the background check requirements of the Protection of Minors Policy - principally the requirement for background checks of current faculty and staff who do not have "direct contact with minors" as that term is defined in the amended Pennsylvania law. We will provide additional information about this in the near future.

 

What This Means For You

 

If you have already initiated the background check process for yourself, you should proceed to finish the process and complete the three background checks. If you have not already initiated the background check process for yourself, and your position is not one that has "direct contact with minors" as defined in the amended law (i.e., contact with minors who are not enrolled Lehigh students), you may wait until our next communication which will provide further direction.

In this interim period, the University will continue with implementation of the background checks for new faculty and staff hires and current faculty and staff who have "direct contact with minors" as stated in the Policy and defined in the amended law. Even though the amendments to Act 153 have changed the statutory requirements for who must have these background checks, background checks are likely to be the new expectation (of students, parents and others) and reflect best practices in higher education for the process of hiring faculty and staff. New staff hires have undergone background checks since 2004 and new faculty and staff hires will be made aware of the new background check policy prior to hire and can take it into account as they apply for and/or begin employment.

We recognize that current staff hired prior to 2004 and current faculty may not have expected to undergo these checks, however we note again that societal expectations and best practices have changed with respect to these measures for the protection of campus communities and children. Thank you for your cooperation and your attention to this important University Policy and to the protection of children on our campus and in our programs.

Patrick V. Farrell, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs 

Patricia A. Johnson, Vice President for Finance & Administration

Chris Halladay, Associate Vice President, Human Resources

Frank Roth, General Counsel