Homicide, drug-related felonies and sexual assault are among the dozens of crimes no longer tolerable on public, private, intermediate unit and vo-tech school employees' records.
School district solicitor David Andrews of Andrews and Beard Law Offices in Altoona said no employees have been fired since September in the Mirror coverage area as a result of the revised Pennsylvania School Code.
Act 24 stems from a 2005 grand jury recommendation after a case of a Dauphin County teacher who was hired by Steelton Highspire School District, after a five-year ban for drug and theft-related offenses, but later committed sexual crimes against students.
School administrators could formerly hire convicts after a five-year employment ban from date of conviction.
By requiring school administrators to submit employee criminal histories to the state or face a $2,500 fine, Act 24 retroactively - and permanently - bans longtime school employees as well as prospective employees with felonies on their records.
But an Allegheny County intermediate unit that Andrews serves has filed one of four lawsuits against the Pennsylvania Department of Education to keep employees they are required to fire under Act 24 of school code.
The Allegheny lawsuit revolves around an Intermediate Unit No. 3 employee who was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 1983 resulting from a domestic dispute involving a struggle over a firearm that discharged, Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Wythe Keever said.
The PSEA is paying court costs for that case as well as three more from districts in Delaware, York, Dauphin counties. Lawsuits have been filed in districts' respective county Court of Common Pleas.
"The [intermediate unit] does not want to fire this guy," said Andrews, who said he will not be involved with the case when the PSEA assumes that task.
"We are taking position that he is a rehabilitated offender. The Pennsylvania Department of Education shouldn't put the district in a position to terminate an employee if they have already been punished and are now rehabilitated."
But Sen. Jeff Piccola, R-Dauphin, is upset that districts are willing to take a chance at history repeating itself. Piccola, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said school district use of legal counsel to resist the law is disturbing.
"The message they are sending to kids is that it is better to break the law to protect adults than to follow the law and protect children," he said. "It took almost seven years to implement Act 24 and it has been fought by teachers' unions every step of the way."
The PSEA seeks to change Act 24 by arguing that it conflicts with existing case law that protects employment for rehabilitated offenders, which is not inconsistent with reasonable measures to ensure student safety, Keever said.
But unless the court sees a deficiency in Act 24, it is the law, Piccola said.
"We have taxpayers paying $26 billion in local, state and federal taxes annually to finance education and parents who give custody of their children and yet school districts fight to keep convicted felons working for them," Piccola said.
In the case of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit employee, he was convicted and completed five years in state prison and five years of probation by 1993. He disclosed his conviction to school officials when he was hired in 2000.
He has no disciplinary record and works as a counselor helping young and unmarried fathers with criminal offenses or other issues, PSEA sources provided by Keever state.
The Department of Education has not yet determined the number of school employees fired due to Act 24, spokesman Tim Eller said.
Andrews praised school administrators and staff members in the Mirror coverage area for their clean records.
"It speaks well for quality of teachers in our region, " said Andrews, whose law firm serves more than 100 school districts statewide including all Blair County schools.
The state has filed a motion to consolidate all four cases filed at county courts and transfer them to Commonwealth Court, Keever said. No court date has been scheduled, he said.
As school districts battle the state to retain employees convicted of criminal offenses, parents have been quiet, according to an education analyst.
"Ultimately, it is parents who should choose who can best serve the needs of their child," said Nate Benefield, director of policy analysis at the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based free-market think tank. "Without placing students and parents first, Pennsylvania will continue to struggle in the classroom and in dealing with the bigger education picture."