Bill Limits Criminal History Queries On College Applications

DOVER, Del. (AP) — The state Senate has passed a bill prohibiting colleges and universities in Delaware from asking prospective students questions about their criminal backgrounds during the application process or admissions, with limited exceptions.

The bill passed the Democrat-led chamber on a 15-5 vote Thursday and now goes to the House. Sen. Ernie Lopez, a University of Delaware employee who is not seeking reelection, was the only Republican to vote for the measure.

Supporters of the bill say it will expand educational and career opportunities for convicted criminals.

“Every Delawarean deserves a chance to learn from their worst mistakes and seek a better life for themselves and their families,” said Sen. Marie Pinkney, chief sponsor of the bill.

Opponents are concerned the legislation poses a public safety risk for college and university students.

Under the bill, institutions of higher learning, whether public or private, would generally be prohibited from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on an initial application form, or at any time prior to deciding whether to accept the person for admission.

On an application form, a school could ask only about convictions for stalking, sexual assault, or other sex offenses. A school, for example, could ask whether an applicant has been convicted of sexual harassment, an unclassified misdemeanor that typically results in a fine, but it could not ask whether the applicant has been convicted of a non-sexual violent crime such as armed robbery, assault, arson or murder.

If the school opts to deny admission based on a conviction for stalking or a sex offense, the applicant could appeal through the school’s disciplinary process.

Once a person is accepted for admission, a school could request a criminal history, but only for the purposes of offering counseling or making decisions about participation in campus life. In doing so, the school would be required to consider the nature of the criminal conduct and whether it bears a direct relationship to campus life. The school also would have to consider the person’s age at the time of the criminal conduct, how long ago it happened, and any evidence of “rehabilitation or good conduct.”

A school could not use criminal conviction history as the sole reason to deny admission to or continuation in an academic program designed to prepare a student for a career that requires an occupational license or a teaching certificate. The school would be required, however, to offer counseling related to the licensing or certification requirement “in order to assist a student in making an informed decision about pursuing such a program.”