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Some Washington County school volunteers will need criminal background checks

February 06, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Some volunteers in Washington County Public Schools will be required to have a criminal background check before working with children.

The Board of Education voted Tuesday to require formal background checks that include fingerprinting for volunteers who will regularly be left alone with children. For those who do not have unsupervised time with children, there might be a less formal check of the person's criminal record.

The policy will take effect in August 2009.

The board voted 6-1, with Board Vice President Donna Brightman opposed. Brightman said she asked eight weeks ago for the cost of conducting background checks on volunteers, but had not been given that data. Chief Legal Counsel Anthony Trotta told the board that officials are reviewing what the cost would be.

"I want to know what the cost is before we vote on things," Brightman said.

The board had discussed requiring volunteers to pay for their own background checks, but revised the policy to have Washington County Public Schools pay that fee.

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Board Member Bernadette M. Wagner said the board did not want to discourage people from volunteering in the county's schools.

Becky Vantz, family and community partnership coordinator at Hickory Elementary School, said she had concerns that requiring volunteers to pay for a background check before helping in the schools would limit the number of people willing to volunteer.

"A lot of our families would not be able to afford to pay for a background check," she said. "That would lower the amount of volunteers you get in a school system."

Most of Hickory Elementary School's volunteers do work in the schools, but Vantz said that volunteers never are alone with children. The school has about 60 or 70 people volunteering each month. The majority of those volunteers are parents, she said.

"There's always another staff member there when they're with children," she said.

Volunteers who make copies or work on laminating materials do not need the same level of supervision, she said.

"We just try to do the best with what we have to make sure our children are safe," Vantz said. "I don't think (anything) is going to be perfect. If someone is going to do a child harm, it may be the first-time offense, so a background check may not even cover that."

Conococheague Elementary School Principal Ryan Hench said people apply to be volunteers at the school, than are contacted by a volunteer coordinator. Training is offered for those who want to be volunteers.

Hench said the need to conduct a background check on volunteers who want to work with children is unfortunate.

"I can't tell you I'd lose a lot of volunteers, though, because the people here are so dedicated to the kids," Hench said.

Like at Hickory Elementary, volunteers at Conococheague Elementary who do work with students are not left alone with them, Hench said.

"Volunteers are not ever left alone with the children," he said. "There's always a certified staff member there."

Board members discussed Tuesday how to determine which volunteers would be the subject of a criminal background check. Board Member Wayne D. Ridenour said that simply saying that volunteers who "regularly" spend time alone with children should be checked is too vague.

"Where do we draw the line," he asked. "If you volunteer five times?"

Board President Roxanne R. Ober said this policy is a "work in progress," and that some of those issues would be determined. The goal was to ensure student safety, Wagner said.




How they voted

The Washington County Board of Education voted 6-1 Tuesday to require criminal background checks for some school volunteers.

  • Yes -- Board President Roxanne R. Ober, Paul W. Bailey, Ruth Anne Callaham, Wayne D. Ridenour, William H. Staley, Bernadette M. Wagner

  • No -- Board Vice President Donna Brightman

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