JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Day cares and preschools across Florida are understaffed and their employees are stressed out due to a new federal mandate expanding background check rules that has backlogged teachers.
Under the rule that went into effect July 1, any teacher who lived out of state in the last five years is subject to stricter checks and administrators must rely on the other states to give new teachers clearance.
But two months later, the new school year has started and yet many schools are still waiting on teachers to be approved to start in the classroom.
Many day care providers told News4Jax that the child care workers on staff are maxing out their overtime every week and schools are having to come up with creative solutions until the new background checks finally come though.
Adrian Campbell, the director of Andromeda Preschool in Orange Park, said she hasn't had issues with the new rule yet, but many of her colleagues have expressed frustration.
"I just think that they brought it out at the wrong time, at the beginning of school," Campbell said.
Child care centers and preschools in North Florida are experiencing the backlog, and because of Jacksonville's military presence, it's affecting many teachers.
The Department of Children and Families said it was backlogged 17,000 teachers last month but the number was down to 1,725 as of Friday.
Theresa Little, the director at Christ the King Child Care and a member of the Duval County Early Learning Coalition board, said expanding background checks is a great concept, but it has been hard to implement.
"It's a good law. We support that. We want lots of checks and clearances and background screenings on employees. The problem we have with it is the rollout. The time frame didn't allow the Department of Children and Families, I don't think, enough time to get staff in place for the mass that they're going to have to re-screen," Little said.
Little said Friday that she's still waiting for a background check for a teacher who taught at her school the last two years but has only lived in Florida for four years. The teacher is now not allowed to teach while they wait to hear back from the state.
"An absolutely great teacher and the thought of not being able to keep her employed because of the law is scary," Little said.
Chelsea Cutler is one of the preschool teachers still waiting for work after applying for her background check in July.
"(I'm) stressed and annoyed. Seeing that I've been unemployed for two months and still don't have a job, still don't have answers and I'm still waiting," Cutler said.
DCF told News4Jax that staff has been pulled from other departments to help speed up the situation, but the background checks rely on other states to comply.
Administrators said Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia are being particularly difficult in sending information.