Monday, October 15, 2007

Background checks on parent volunteers

This month CEO Tom Brady issued a notice (see here -- we should have the memo on the Parents United website) that schools needed to have a battery of forms on file for parent volunteers, among them a criminal background check and child abuse clearance. At a time when we're trying to balance safety issues with encouraging parents to feel welcome at a school, does this new policy mandate stifle parent engagement or is it a necessary measure?


Parents United said...

A GAMP parent writes to us:

"I think this is terrible.--- the School board used to pay for this!!! For the last 3 years, my parents were involved in Parent Patrol and Parent Helpdesk and now I lost their help because they are not willing to pay for the clearances. They are Volunteers and are supervised by the school and should not have to fall under the same category as the paid teachers.

The school board cut all the Community Builders. I had a great Community Builder named Georgiana. She would come to my H&S meeting, give out information offered by the School board, discuss free events for the parents, help me with the student reports cards online, etc. She was a wealth of knowledge. She also helped set me up with Parent Helpdesk and Parent Patrol. Valuable tool, bridging the community and parents, we worked together.

I used to have parent volunteers who helped with school safety. Those parents had to go to classes at South Branch maybe 3 classes. They also needed to qualify so they filled out forms for Child Abuse and criminal background forms. The School Board paid for this. I had the same parents for 3 years. Those parents received a small stipend which was grant money from Dwight Evans . They got maybe $150.00?

Now, since the budget cuts, we let go of all the Community Builders (I think were let go); the grant money was taken away (even though my parents would still have helped me without this); and the Child Abuse , Criminal Background and a new FBI clearance was added and the parents had to pay for this. The FBI background check is the most expense one, and you have to wait 6 weeks for clearance to volunteer!

I know teachers need to get the FBI clearance as well as the Child Abuse and Criminal Background, but for the parents who are supervised by the school and teachers that is overkill especially since these parents are give up their time for free. My parents would have done the Parent patrol and helpdesk without the small stipend money but they are not willing to pay for the background checks. They already got the clearances for child abuse and criminal background.

I talked to Qbila Divine who confirmed that the Community Builders were cut. I asked her who was going to be my bridge now between parents, community school. She said she would e-mail me papers to give out. Not acceptable.

So now I have no parent patrol, no helpdesk helpers either. We need school safety in school as well as outside school. I would get my parents back if the School board would pay for the clearances."

Kamah-Alicia (Kima) said...

Of course it is imperative that volunteers have background checks as a requirement before they can be around our children.

girasole9 said...

Telling parents that they must apply for background clearances annually to spend a few hours a month doing supervised volunteering in their child's class in the presence of the teacher is a travesty. It does a disservice to many immigrant families for whom English is not their first language and who may not be comfortable listing every residence and everyone they've ever lived with since 1975 (a requirement for the child abuse clearance).

The finger-printing requirement alone is an outrageous violation of privacy. Is any other school district in the country doing this - fingerprinting parental volunteers, requiring decades of personal history? There must be a simpler, less intrusive and less expensive way to keep dangerous adults out of the schools.

And for those who claim it's all to protect children, there is never a guarantee. In fact, many adults who commit crimes against children are never caught and prosecuted. Just because someone comes back with a clean clearance doesn't mean they don't have the potential to do harm.

My concern is that we not exclude parents from classrooms. I do think background checks make sense for one-on-one tutoring or other types of activity where adults would have the opportunity to be alone with children other then their own. However, parents need to have access to their children's classrooms and, indeed, should be encouraged to invest their time in the classroom. Requiring background checks will definitely cut down on parent volunteerism and will really hamper new attempts to get parents more involved. Already, with the lack of parent volunteers reading with kids for 100 Book Challenge, our kids are only getting any adult help once or twice a week from their teacher. This is detrimental to the positive effects that the program has reaped for years.

Part of the solution is not requiring clearance if the parent-volunteer is working in the same room with the teacher. Unless there is one-on-one tutoring or mentoring alone in another room, this seems preposterous.

Kara said...

This is an important issue, I agree. I do think it's a little silly that we're so paranoid that we're stooping to requiring background checks on parents at schools. I can see the necessity of checking teachers and school staff, but parents?

kinshuk said...

For useful guidance regarding conduction of criminal background checks, check out here:

Criminal Background Check