New Mexico School District Adds Instant Volunteer Checks

By Michael Klazema on 1/26/2016

Going forward, all volunteers at Rio Rancho Public Schools in Rio Rancho, New Mexico will have to undergo background checks—though, not necessarily the traditional kind that many of us are familiar with. On the contrary, instead of giving their names, fingerprints, or other identifying details to the school district for a background investigation, volunteers will instead be subject to "instant" background checks upon their arrivals at Rio Rancho school buildings.

The system being implemented at Rio Rancho Public Schools is similar to the other "flash background check" systems that some school districts across the country have put in place to screen school volunteers and visitors. Essentially, a parent or community member looking to volunteer will come to a school and go directly to the main office. There, the volunteer would check in with the school, a process that would include a "mini-background check" that would search for prior convictions of sexual abuse. Each school office will be granted access to an online database to perform the background checks.

If and when a volunteer passes the background check, the office would print a badge or sticker out for that person, more or less providing clearance for them to be in the school building. Once that person's business in the school was concluded, they would be required to stop back at the office to "sign out," which would constitute giving back the sticker or badge they were given at the beginning of their visit. The school destroys the old badges, and regular volunteers are required to return to the office and go through the process again upon every school visit.

In the past, Rio Rancho Public Schools would just run upfront background checks on anyone interested in volunteering. So long as a person passed their background check, they would then have two years of clearance to serve a volunteer capacity within the school district. The main goal of this flash background check system is to ensure that every volunteer has to renew his or her school clearance with each new visit.

Some parents in the Rio Rancho community are worried that this repetitious background check and clearance system might serve as a barrier to parents hoping to volunteer at school—not because those parents would fail the background checks, but because the system is inconvenient. A parent who volunteers multiple times in a week, or even in multiple class hours throughout a single day, would still have to go through the clearance process every time they re-enter a school building. While the process is supposedly quite quick, there is probably a point where it would become irritating or even start to seem disrespectful.

However, the system would do a good job of tracking which volunteers are in the school building at any given time, and would ensure that none of those volunteers were a threat to students. The benefits, in other words, outweigh the annoyances and disadvantages.


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