Rhode Island Requires School Volunteers to Have Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 6/3/2013

At the end of last month, Rhode Island’s Governor signed a bill into law that will require all school volunteers in the state to undergo a criminal background check before working with kids.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joseph McNamara, called the new requirement a common sense way of protecting children. Supporters hope that the background check process won’t discourage parents or community members from volunteering at their local schools. However, because the background checks will be conducted by local law enforcement, delays could occur.

An instant product like US OneSEARCH from could prove a better alternative. Employers can use US OneSEARCH to screen job candidates or volunteers quickly and effectively. The extremely quick turnaround time allows employers to potentially conduct a background check and hire an individual on the same day in order to fill last-minute job openings. US OneSEARCH includes a search of over 450 million records collected from state and local databases across the country, resulting in a very thorough national background check process.

Rhode Island’s new background check process for school volunteers will not provide school officials with details about the specific criminal records that are uncovered by law enforcement in the course of the search. Instead, school officials will be notified that a criminal record exists without mention of the specific crime. Then, presumably volunteers will be given the opportunity to explain any extenuating circumstances surrounding their conviction before the school officials make their final decision.

One has to wonder about the effectiveness of this approach. By not providing the school officials with the details of the specific offense, the law essentially robs the background check of a good deal of its power. In many cases, school officials are most concerned about keeping children away from individuals who have been convicted of crimes against minors, sex crimes, and drug crimes. A tool like US OneSEARCH, which provides a detailed description of all criminal records, would make it easy for employers or school officialsto make a determination about individuals who pose a significant danger to minors based on the specific crimes they have committed. US OneSEARCH even includes a search of Offender Registries to further assist in keeping kids safe from potential predators.

One interesting aspect of the new law is that school volunteers are not required to pass a background check, only to submit to one. If a criminal record is discovered, the individual could still serve as a volunteer if given permission by local officials at the school in question. This situation has both benefits and drawbacks.

One major benefit is that individuals who may have criminal records but who have subsequently changed their ways can be given a second chance. This is especially helpful for parents, as they will still be able to stay involved in their kids’ school lives even if they have criminal records that for example have no direct impact on interaction with children.

A big drawback is that it may be easier for volunteers to work this loophole to their advantage. A predator may be able to use their charisma to convince the school officials that they don’t pose any danger to the safety of the kids at the school. In this sense, it might be better to exclude individuals with certain types of convictions that are not a fit with the volunteer role at school.


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