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05/17/2017

Policy: Schools consider extra layer of verification for some volunteers

The School Board is considering fingerprinting, or at least an extra layer of verification beyond the standard background check, for adult volunteers who regularly work one-on-one with students, and those attending overnight field trips.

The proposal is a response to parent concerns as the board's policy subcommittee continues to work on updating the School Department's volunteer policy. "There's considerable concern, and you've seen some emails, about whether or not fingerprinting should play any role in our vetting volunteers," Barbara Powers, chair of the policy committee, told board members at their meeting May 9, 2017.

The board postponed approving changes proposed at their April meeting to allow the committee to look further into fingerprinting or some other method of verifying volunteers working with students in potentially vulnerable situations.

Powers said the proposal mirrors a practice being considered by one of the Cumberland County Superintendents' organization school systems which she polled by email.

A next step is to find out just how many volunteers might be affected, and, whether the state's InforME database of criminal records might be an effective but less-costly alternative to fingerprinting. "It doesn't involve fingerprinting but it does check for anyone who might show up as a sexual offender," Powers said of the service, adding that it could be a helpful addition to standard background checks for a narrow set of volunteers.

The policy committee will next meet at 5:30 p.m. June 6 at Town Hall to prepare revisions for board consideration and approval June 13.

Other revisions proposed since the board's first reading of the volunteer policy update:

  • Requiring background checks of volunteers every five years;
  • Defining "regular" volunteers as "those who come in on a frequent basis for a specific purpose;"
  • Adding a stipulation that volunteers work "in the classroom or in a highly visible and accessible open setting" under the direction or supervision of authorized staff;
  • Limiting a proposed prohibition on volunteers taking video or photos while on duty to those taken on personal devices; and,
  • Requiring annual review of the policy, "so that key provisions are highlighted for all staff as the new school year begins."