Elementary Schools in Pennsylvania Institute Background Checks for Parent Volunteers

By Michael Klazema on 9/10/2014

It's becoming increasingly common for parents of elementary school students in the state of Pennsylvania, and indeed, throughout the country as a whole, to have to go through criminal background checks to get involved at school. Such is the case at Fairwood Elementary School, a school in the Crestwood School District, which itself is located in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Luzerne County is located near Scranton, PA.

According to a report from Citizen's Voice, an online news source in the Luzerne County area, Fairwood Elementary is just the latest of many schools in the state to institute new requirements for parent volunteers. Going forward, parents who want to be involved with their kids' classes at Fairwood will be required to become members of the PTA (Parent Teacher Authority) at the school. To do that, parents will first have to go through state level criminal background checks.

The background checks in question will be run through PATCH, or Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History. PATCH is the criminal history registry that state police branches throughout Pennsylvania use. Background checks through the PATCH system should, therefore, uncover any criminal offenses committed within the state of Pennsylvania.

Fairview Elementary says that the new policy has been implemented to help protect children at the school from potential threats, as well as to give parents peace of mind that their children are not interacting with parent volunteers who have criminal histories. Such securities, of course, would be better provided by broader nationwide background checks. A state screening system would be blind to crimes that may have been committed outside of Pennsylvania.

For now, however, state checks for volunteers are a strong step forward for schools in Pennsylvania, given the fact that there is not state law on the books requiring or even suggesting volunteer background checks. Currently, the Pennsylvania Department of Education only requires school volunteer background checks of any kind for charter schools. Other private and public schools in the state then could feasibly get by without running background checks on volunteers at all.

But more and more schools are doing what the Department of Education says they are at liberty to do: adopt their own policies on the matter. Of course, different schools throughout the state have approached the subject of volunteer background checks differently. Some schools only require checks if the volunteers are expected to be serving the school on a long-term basis; others base who does and does not gets checks on which volunteers will be spending the most time with children. Fairwood's new policy, it seems, will require background checks for all volunteers.


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