Michigan Public School District Streamlines its Background Check Procedures for Volunteers

By Michael Klazema on 12/7/2013

School teachers have long been one of the most vigilantly background checked groups in the American employment circuit. Recent policy changes have indicated that the same level of attention will now be paid to school district volunteers, who often retain the same proximity to children and teenagers as teachers do, but who have often been exempted from the background check process due to the unpaid nature of their contributions. No longer; at least, not in Jackson, Michigan.

The school board of the Jackson Public Schools recently posted a unanimous decision to ramp up and streamline background check policies for district volunteers. To, a site that aggregates and publishes a sizable number of Michigan’s newspapers, District Superintendent Dan Evans explained that, in the past, background checks have always been run on volunteers, but have been done in a more casual manner than standard employment checks.

To replace the old way of doing things, the school board has now dictated that background checks for volunteers will follow an exact, standardized policy. The new procedure will not only make it easier for the district to screen volunteers and to decide who is or is not permitted to work with students, but it will also make background requirements more clear to prospective volunteers.

Largely, the new background check policy for Jackson Public School District volunteers is simple and similar to policies held by other school districts. From here on out, district volunteers will be required to submit to a background screening on an annual basis. The check will look into the Michigan sex offender registry, as well as into the prospective volunteer’s criminal record.

Whether the criminal check will be confined to state records or will extend to federal files was not revealed in the MLive article. However, Jackson Public Schools would be wise to do background screening on a nationwide level, both for sex offender checks and criminal history checks. Vendors like offer screening services for both state-level and nationwide checks. The wider-scale checks invariably offer a broader safety net for employers to fall back upon. For a school district obviously bent on protecting its students, nationwide checks may be the next policy for Jackson Public Schools to consider.

Sex offenders will automatically be barred from participating as school district volunteers. Some criminal offenses will earn the same treatment, though the Jackson’s new volunteer background check policies have also revamped the course the district will take in dealing with felonious criminal offenders.

Previously, convicted felons who believed they were being wrongfully excluded from volunteer opportunities could appeal their case, but the appeal had to be made in front of the entire board of education. The new policy establishes a provision for an “ad hoc” committee—consisting of Jackson’s superintendent, human resources director, a board member, and four or more community members. The ad hoc committee policy should make the appeal process less intimidating for the alleged criminal offender and simpler for all involved parties.


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