DALLAS (AP) — School district officials across Texas are gearing up for a new fingerprinting system designed to better catch criminals who may be working at public schools.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, would help reveal the suspected 300 school workers believed to have a criminal past at the Dallas Independent School District, said George Santowski, the district's compliance director in the Office of Professional Responsibility.

Dallas and many other Texas districts already perform criminal background checks on new employees, but the process doesn't catch employees who are using false personal information and doesn't always include a nationwide check.

The new rule will require fingerprints from all teachers, administrators, counselors, librarians, substitute teachers and others to check for any past felonies or misdemeanors.

In a process that should take up to five days, the prints will be scanned by the Department of Public Safety and then sent to the FBI for a national criminal history database check.

Janitors, cafeteria workers and other support employees hired after Jan. 1 will be subjected to the fingerprint background checks as well. But those hired beforehand will only face the old, less comprehensive method.

Currently, DISD policy says workers who have been caught living under assumed names to hide their criminal histories, or who lied on their employment applications to conceal arrests, may be fired.

Santowski said such firings need to be a requirement, not an option.

"If they lied, our position is they should be out," said Santowski, who estimates about 1 to 2 percent of the district's 20,000 employees may be violators.

According to Doug Phillips, the Texas Education Agency's director of investigations and fingerprinting, districts across the state are dealing with the same issue of how to handle school workers who are caught.

"I very much anticipate there being a lot of criminal histories that we're not aware of and that the districts aren't aware of," he said.

Phillips said the Austin school district will be the first to test the fingerprinting system.

"This is going to make the schools safer," said Santowski, the DISD official. "The only people losing are the crooks."

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