Pennsylvania School District Approves Guidelines That Will Call for 560 New Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 6/29/2015
Pennsylvania school districts and youth serving organizations have been scrambling to implement new background checks policies, as the deadline set by a new state law looms. The state's Child Protective Services Law, which calls for all volunteers who work with children to undergo background checks, officially goes into effect on July 1st. One school district, in Parkland, recently told the press that the new law has led them to approve a sweeping new set of guidelines, guidelines that will necessitate new background checks for at least 560 people.

That number sounds excessive, but it's more or less par for the course for large school districts that rely heavily on volunteer work. Parkland School District's volunteers include chaperones for field trips, assistant coaches with school athletic programs, and more. Each of the 560 individuals who perform this kind of unpaid work in any given year will now be required to undergo state criminal history background checks and child abuse history clearances.

Parkland's new policy also helped answer some of the questions that has been most common among Pennsylvania schools, organizations, and volunteers since the Child Protective Services Law was passed. There has been a significant amount of confusion about how much "contact with children" demands a volunteer undergo a background check, and further, about who actually qualifies as a volunteer.

In answer to the former question, Parkland is erring on the side of security, requiring background checks for anyone over the age of 18 "who is responsible for the welfare of one or more children" or who "has direct contact with children through any program, activity, or service sponsored by the district or one of its schools." The basic idea is that anyone who has consistent or regular contact with children will now need background checks.

"Consistent" and "regular" are also the words used to decide whether or not someone qualifies as a volunteer. For instance, a parent coming into class to present for Career Day or to read a book during story time would be considered a visitor instead of a volunteer, and would not be required to get a background check. However, a parent serving as a regular classroom aidewould be classified as a volunteer and would have to undergo background check.

While the Parkland School District say they have gotten some calls from parents about the new policy, the hope is that most of the 560 volunteers that now need background checks won't be scared off by the prospect. The district has made it easy for volunteers to order the state criminal and child abuse checks, with a link on their website to the relevant websites. Meanwhile, the State Governor's office has waived the fees of both of the checks for school volunteers, meaning that there isn't a financial obligation there.

Parkland School District has done a great job of managing a difficult transition and turning a convoluted law into something easy to understand and digest. Other school districts in Pennsylvania could take a page out of Parkland's book as they look to implement their own new background check policies for volunteers.

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