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A Times Editorial

School volunteer screenings, fees merit a closer look

The last thing public schools should do is discourage parents and other volunteers from showing up to help. But that's the reality in the Pinellas County School District, where a stricter-than-state-law screening process is costing some volunteers up to $51 to comply. School Board members, recognizing the disincentive to volunteer, have pledged to take a look at the problem. At the very least, if the screenings are determined to be necessary for students' safety, the School Board needs to find a way to offset the cost for volunteers.

It's not clear why or how the Pinellas schools in 2009 came to require volunteers who have unsupervised contact with students — such as providing carpools for field trips — to undergo more significant screening than the state requires. Nor is it clear why the "Level II background screening" that includes national criminal background and fingerprint checks hasn't been uniformly enforced in the district until this year.

Of course, student safety is a paramount interest of the district. But family and community involvement is also crucial to the success of resource-strapped public schools. The board needs to quickly investigate whether to keep this policy in place, and if it does, find money to ensure that willing volunteers aren't forced to pay up simply to lend a hand.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: A Level II background check does not include checking for employment. A Saturday editorial was incorrect on that point.

School volunteer screenings, fees merit a closer look 09/21/12 [Last modified: Monday, September 24, 2012 5:30pm]
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