Last fall, Florida employees of BellSouth were told they would have to submit to fingerprinting or be terminated. That's because a state law called the Jessica Lunsford Act, passed in 2005, mandates that all "noninstructional school district employees or contractual personnel" must have criminal background checks before being allowed to entering schools. BellSouth is a vendor for public schools statewide, so its employees fall under that law.
BellSouth technician Patrick Rousseau and his coworkers were notified by supervisors of the background check in August, and submitted. "I said no problem," recalls the Miami-Dade resident, who is 37 and has worked for Bellsouth for eight years. "It's for the Jessica Lunsford Act, for the protection of children. Great thing."
But when the results came in two weeks ago, says Rousseau, some 60 Miami-Dade BellSouth employees were suspended for 90 days. Rousseau was not among them, but he says that some of his colleagues' "offenses" were hardly grounds to lose their jobs. "One guy said, 'Look, it's embarrasing, but when I was 19 years old I was having sex with my girlfriend in the car and the cops came, so I pled no contest.' Another guy said, 'I got into a fight at a bar and I got a battery charge.'" Rousseau himself bartended for 10 years. "You know how many bar fights I got into?" he says.
BellSouth spokesperson Don Sadler emphasizes that no one has been fired, and that "if an employee comes to us and tells us that he has been denied . . . then he is given the opportunity to clear his record. Many of our employees are being successful in clearing their records." Sadler was unable to say how many employees had done so, however. If the employee cannot clear his record, Sadler adds, he will be given an "opportunity to find alternate employment in the company."
Rousseau says he plans to attend the Miami-Dade County School Board meeting on Wednesday to protest the actions. "Can't there be a differentiation between someone who's committed an act against a child and someone who got into a bar fight?" he asks. "There's guys with 29 years who are ready to retire and who are being sent home. They will lose everything." --Isaiah Thompson
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