PATERSON, NJ – Jonathan Hodges’ nine-plus-year career on the Paterson Board of Education almost came to end last week.
In mid-December, Hodges was among more than 500 school board members around New Jersey who the state said had not yet complied with a law that required them to have their fingerprints taken for criminal background checks.
Less than a week before the state’s Dec. 31 deadline, Hodges said he still wasn’t sure whether he would have his fingerprints taken. “I’ve never been arrested,’’ Hodges said, dismissing any suggestion that he might be ducking the fingerprints because he has something to hide. Instead, he said, his resistance to the fingerprinting was a matter of principle.
Hodges criticized the fingerprinting requirement as “encroachment of government into the lives of its people.’’ But on December 30, Hodges said he went online and signed up for the fingerprinting.
“I don’t feel good about my decision,’’ Hodges said. “When you start acquiescing on these things, you invite more abuses of power.’’
The fingerprinting requirement was enacted this year under a bill sponsored by Assemblyman William Diegnan of South Plainfield in Middlesex County.
Already, nine public school board members and three charter school trustees around New Jersey have been disqualified as a result of the findings of the background checks, according to northjersey.com. Local officials say no one in Paterson has been removed from the school board as a consequence of the law.
Hodges actually hasn’t had his fingerprints taken, but signed up to have it done. That’s all he needed to do to comply with the law, according to state education department spokeswoman Allison Kobus.
Paterson Schools Commissioner Errol Kerr said he was glad Hodges decided to put aside his feelings about the fingerprinting in favor of the “greater good” of serving the city’s school children.
Proponents of the law say teachers and other school staff already are required to undergo fingerprint background checks. It only makes sense, they argue, to hold the officials who oversee the school staff members to the same standard.
Hodges said he didn’t mind background check, but was opposed to the fingerprints.
“I don’t want my fingerprints sitting in some FBI office somewhere,’’ Hodges said. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I see no reason for that. I’m a volunteer.’’
Hodges ridiculed the law, saying it wasn’t based on any instances in which school board members convicted of crimes had put children in danger. “What are they saying? That kids are at risk from the dais?’’ he said. “I don’t like surrendering my liberties to this nonsense.’’