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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Volunteers: What type of background screening is necessary?



After selecting a new superintendent Tuesday, the Pinellas County School Board had a brief discussion about background checks for volunteers. Apparently, not everyone is following the district's policy, which requires that volunteers who are going to be unsupervised with children get a more rigorous screening - a Level II background check.

But board members had some concerns about when the tougher screening is required and how much it costs. Board chairwoman Robin Wikle said some parents might not be allowed to drive students on a field trip, for instance, without the tougher and more expensive screening. (Background checks can cost over $100 for the Level II.)

"We want parents on campus...but are we making it tough for them to do it," she asked.

Board member Glenton Gilzean echoed that concern. 

"What if it's a grandma who's on a fixed income who wants to be involved?" he asked.

District staff members said they have been working with a vendor to get a less expensive screening, closer to $40. The schools also would work with prospective volunteers to find a placement that doesn't require a more vigorous screening. Volunteers who are in "direct sight" of the teacher don't need a Level II check. 

Board member Linda Lerner raised a concern, though, about volunteers who might go through the less rigorous screening - assuming they'll be in sight of the teacher - but then work with a child out in the hallway. 

Superintendent John Stewart said he'd rather err on the side of caution, rather than risk harm coming to a child.

"I just don't want to ever be a party to that," he said.

District staff members said volunteers are checked on an annual basis - though if anyone is arrested that triggers a notice right away - and the cost of a Level II screening is good for five years. About 13,000 volunteers were screened last year - including the less rigorous screening - and fewer than 50 were rejected, they said.

What do you think the school district should require for background checks? Should they offer some assistance in paying the cost or waive the fee for people unable to pay? Do the rules discourage people from volunteering?


[Last modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 4:24pm]


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