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July 23, 2015

Clearance policy revised

The University is suspending its requirement that all new employees obtain child protection clearances and is developing a process for tracking which new hires will need clearances in response to clarifications to state child-protection law requirements.

Employees who have direct contact with children under age 18 still must obtain a state child abuse history clearance and state and federal criminal background checks. However, under legislation signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on July 1, University employees are not required to obtain the clearances if their direct contact is limited to matriculated students or prospective students on campus visits.

The updated state legislation fine-tunes the broader child-protection laws that took effect last Dec. 31, enacted largely in response to the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State.

The amended law narrows the scope to better match the intent of the law and makes some requirements less onerous for those who must obtain the clearances.

Those who must have the clearances now must renew them every five years, rather than every three years, and can carry over their valid clearances when changing jobs. Previously the certifications were not portable.

In addition, the state will provide its clearances to volunteers for free and will reduce the price for individuals who need the clearances for work or other purposes. Starting July 25, the state Department of Human Services child abuse history clearance and state police criminal history record check will cost $8 apiece, down from $10 each. The state’s action does not affect the charge for an FBI criminal record check, currently $27.50.


The exception for individuals in higher education who interact only with matriculated students or prospective students is “huge,” Stephen M. Ferber, assistant vice chancellor, Human Resources, told the University Times. HR had been gearing up to mobilize clearance clinics to assist employees who would have needed clearances for the first time. While Ferber would not estimate how many employees would have been affected under the earlier, broader requirements, the July 1 amendments mean that most Pitt employees who are required to have clearances probably already do.

“We’re looking at what we need in order to be in compliance,” he said.

In a July 21 memo to deans, directors and department chairs, Provost Patricia E. Beeson and Arthur G. Ramicone, senior vice chancellor and chief financial officer, stated, in part:
“Over the next few weeks we will be analyzing the details of the new language and developing an appropriate compliance plan to identify and obtain clearances from those new and current employees who are still covered by the law as recently amended.

“We expect to send revised instructions on new and current employees who require background checks under the amended law by the end of July. In the meantime, we are suspending the requirement that all new employees have background checks, but ask that you continue to require background checks on those who are likely to have direct contact with children (such as Falk School employees, University Child Development Center employees, employees who will be engaged in clinical practice or research involving children, etc.).”

Ferber told the University Times that HR also is developing a process that will allow individuals to submit their clearances electronically, eliminating the need to bring the papers to HR. “Right now people have to walk them over,” he said.

He noted that HR has updated its FAQ page in light of the recent changes. Information is posted at

—Kimberly K. Barlow          

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