Friday, August 24, 2007

Well, I can't sleep despite getting up at 7:30am yesterday morning and having another early morning in 6 hours, and I'm pissed off, so here's a late-night rant.

As some of you have probably heard, Act 114 was put into place in PA this year - a mandate which as of April 1, 2007 requires all prospective employees of a school district, including student teachers, to have a full set of fingerprints submitted to the FBI for a Federal Criminal History check before being allowed to set foot in a school building, bus or other related area. This is complete and utter BULLSHIT. I'm gonna say that word again, 'cause I like it. BULL. SHIT.

The law already requires me as a student teacher to keep two clearances updated yearly - the state Child Abuse History clearance (Act 151) and the state police Criminal Record Clearance. Both cost $10 per check no matter how many times you've submitted and come back clean before, and the fingerprinting, although supposedly one-time only, costs $40. I had to pay over a week's worth in food and gas money this year toward getting clearances which I personally find annoyances at best and unnecessary at worst. I'm unaware of any other state's codes regarding this, unfortunately, or I'd rant about everywhere else, too... but the fact is that in PA, they seem to think that "Think of the children!" means "Inconvenience the teachers!".

I've already submitted myself to the fingerprinting station once. The operator of the scanning equipment on site (it's optical, and it'll pick up all the dirt and grease you put on it, but it won't take a fingerprint scan worth beans, apparently) had to re-scan ALL of my fingers 4 times each just to get the program to take the "best ones" from each scan. The "entire fingerprint capture process should take no more than three to five minutes." BULLSHIT! 15-20 minutes is too long to be rolling my fingers around on a glass plate. Especially -and this is the part I'm really pissed about- because the FBI returned my fingerprints as UNREADABLE less than 2 weeks after their submission. Now, I'm glad they took their heads out of their asses long enough to give me a prompt (if soggy, because the mailman left the letterbox open in the rain again) reply, but I don't have the time to go in for a re-try, and if the scanning process hasn't changed my fingerprints aren't going to come out any better this time. They only give you one free re-scan, too. If they reject your prints a second time, you pay for the third and all subsequent re-scans. Personally I don't care about that kind of situation if it doesn't happen regularly but from what the scanner told me, this has happened to several people and it's the start of the school year already. If I were student teaching this semester and didn't actually have a few weeks (maybe) to finish the process, I'd be ripping my hair out.

So, rescans have to be done. I have a workshop this week, Thursday through Saturday, 9-4. With my sleep patterns as sporadic as they've been this summer it's hard enough getting up and going at 7:30 without having to go elsewhere but I want the re-fingerprinting over with fast, so I went in this morning (yesterday morning by now) at 8:30 to re-scan. The computer operator types like crap and the re-scan number is really long... and the scanning program won't take my SSN. The error it threw back completely baffled the operator, who (no offense) doesn't seem to know the second thing about computers (she knows the first - if it doesn't work, turn it off and turn it back on again!). She tried logging out and back in. No change (well, DUH!). She tried rebooting the computer. Same error. She tried looking up my info to make sure my SSN was right the first time (it was).
After half an hour (I'm now running slightly late to my be-there-on-time-or-make-a-bad-impression workshop) I told her flat-out that I HAD to go. Then she told me that despite the fact that the error (something to the effect of "Unused ssn not located") indicated that the computer was trying to submit me a new, individual record instead of re-scanning over the old matching one, which seems like a program issue to me, the real issue was that my ID number issued by Cogent for the re-scan didn't match my SSN, as if this were so obvious, and that I had to call them myself to get that figured out.

...when, exactly, will I find time for this, and how are they supposed to help me without the actual goddamn error message being read to them so they know what's going wrong? I have never worked in tech support but I know very well that calling and saying "Hi, your program told me something about my SSN and won't let me rescan" won't get me very far unless they're familiar with the error already. Plus, I'm not an employee or anyone who has access to the system to fix it, so any instructions they give me won't help, unless the problem really is what the operator says (doubtful, but with my luck their system actually didn't update or something happened to my record, and won't get fixed for weeks, and nothing I do will help anyway).

As for the fingerprinting process itself- there's a little ink-box type container on the desk in the fingerprinting room which is labeled something like "Fingerprinting prep solution" but no one has even -looked- at it when I've been there. I thought about asking whether they should be using it but I get the impression they'd tell me they didn't know how. On top of that the scanner's glass is covered in other people's fingerprints and grease, and when they clean it, it usually leaves fine smears on the glass which make my fingerprints even harder to read. Then of course it's very touchy about where on the huge surface you're allowed to put your finger to get it within a tiny box, and how hard you press, and if you shift your finger even a millimeter when you're not supposed to it beeps at you and you have to re-start the scan.

I'm sorely tempted to find some ink and a sheet of clean paper and do my prints myself. I'll mail them in to Cogent with a note saying that if they want me to be fingerprinted again with an optical scanner it damn well better be so precise it can pick up my pores, and it better do it right the first time. I'll also tell them that their fingerprint station operators are numbskulls and that $40 is an absurd price to pay for a poorly set up computer system in a back office and this much stress. I'll also write a letter to my local representatives asking them who the fuck passed this piece of crap legislation.

"Think of the children" is a bullshit excuse to impose legislation on media and behaviors that people should be able to handle on their own, like video game ratings of "Mature" (parents should be reading about the games their kids play!) or radio programming (if you know what's on, and you don't like it, CHANGE THE CHANNEL). I don't care how many more child predators they think they're going to catch by submitting prints to a federal database as well as the state one. If an offender isn't registered they're not likely to be caught by a set of fingerprints and if they are you probably already knew since they have to register! As far as other crimes go, I'm not convinced that it's in the best interest of the children to piss off or drive away prospective teachers, counselors, administrators and bus drivers. If I have to pay for a third re-scan I can tell you right now I'm not going to student teach. I'll change my major and find something else to do that does not require fingerprinting but god damnit I don't see the necessity of it in the first place and after the thigh-deep bureaucratic bullshit I've been wading through since elementary school I've had just about enough. This is an incredibly upsetting move coming on the heels of NCLB and the other crap teachers have to deal with, and it makes me very, very worried about the health of the public educational system when parents have to use legislators as middle-men to keep teachers "in line" and "safe" instead of actually getting to know the teachers and the schools themselves.

..but parents are too busy lobbying for protection of the safety and "innocence" of their kids.


  1. How utterly ludicrous. Why on earth do you have to pay for their mistakes and malfunctioning equipment? I like your idea of doing your own and submitting them. By registered post, and notarized or something to prove they're yours - that way you can show that legally you have satisfied the (ridiculous) requirements!

    From sometime next month (I think) foreigners entering Japan have to be fingerprinted every time we enter the country, even on a reentry permit, and even if we are permanent residents. I am not going to enjoy coming back next time. Previously I have joined the 'Japan passport holder/permanent residents' line, with The Man, and pretty well whizz through. Now, after all these years, I've been bounced back into the 'visitors' line with all the tourists, and if they're fingerprinting everybody it will take FOREVER. And the poor Man will have to wait for me. Nobody likes spending time in airports, and especially not for something so silly.

    I expect it to be a bit faster than your experience, though. At least I really, really hope so. I don't want to end up living at the airport.

  2. I'll have to start sending you care packages c/o the airports to tide you over...

    Aren't governments just so silly sometimes? I wonder who it was that made them sit up and take notice that they were letting foreigners in?