Michigan Township Will Now Require Background Checks for Parks and Recreation Volunteers

By Michael Klazema on 12/1/2015

It's becoming a more and more familiar story: from schools to camps, and beyond, companies and organizations are requiring background checks for employees, contractors, or volunteers whose duties involve working with children. The latest entity to approve such a requirement is the Parks and Recreation division of Davison Township, Michigan.

At a recent meeting of the Davison Township Board of Trustees, the Parks and Recreation Department proposed that criminal background checks be a requirement for all volunteers and staff members at local parks and facilities. The board approved the measure, which means that anyone working with children at a Parks and Rec facility in Davison Township will be required, going forward, to complete a background check first. Reportedly, the proposal for the new background checks was inspired by the fact that other nearby townships already have background checks in place for Parks and Recreation personnel.

The general feeling in the Board of Trustees meeting was that, if someone is going to be working with children, they should be subject to a thorough background screening. According to a report from the Davison Index, a local newspaper, and publication, one trustee went as far as to say that "if you haven't gotten a felony expunged from your record after so many years, it's because you have multiple convictions." The trustee went on to say that anyone with a criminal background should not be working with children in either a professional or volunteer capacity.

The trustee isn't wrong that an expungement is a good option for ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society and want to be able to claim no criminal record on job applications. However, judges will usually only approve expungement for certain offenses, and usually only after a certain period has elapsed.

Of course, there is an argument to be made that anyone whose crimes cannot be expunged should be kept away from positions that would put that person in close contact with children. Typically, states won't expunge violent or sexually-related crimes, as well as crimes involving children. To imply that anyone with any sort of criminal record should either expunge it or not work with kids, though, is also arguably reductive in a discriminatory fashion. More minor crimes like petty theft, one-time drug possession charges, or other misdemeanors don't necessarily mean an individual should be barred from working any job—even one that involves working with children.

Davison Township is certainly right to run background checks on Parks and Rec staff and volunteers who will be working with children. It's just too bad that the discussion about the new policy seems to imply a blanket denial of those jobs to anyone with a criminal history, rather than due diligence screening and case-by-case consideration.


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