Kansas School District Adds Volunteer Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 9/15/2017
Newton USD 373, a unified school district that serves the city of Newton, Kansas, and several surrounding areas, is adopting a new background check policy for the 2017/18 school year. The policy will require all regular or semi-regular volunteer workers throughout the district to pass background checks. Per a report from The Kansan, the new policy was not spurred by any one incident according to the school and is intended to protect the best interests of students.

The Newton USD 373 school district consists of nine schools, including one early education program, five elementary schools, two intermediate schools, and one high school. The high school, Newton High School, has an enrollment of more than 1,000 students across four grades. The new background check policy will apply to volunteer roles at all nine Newton schools.

The new background check policy won’t automatically require checks for all volunteers, reports explain. Parents or community members who volunteer on a one-off basis won’t be expected to submit to screenings. The checks will kick in after an individual has volunteered on three separate occasions. Administrators claim the policy will ensure that regular volunteers are properly vetted. All volunteers, from classroom aides to parent drivers, will be expected to adhere to the policy after three volunteer instances.

So far, the district only has plans to run criminal history checks. The Kansan noted that the district has explicitly decided against using credit or financial history checks for volunteers. The district superintendent said that Newton USD 373 is only looking for “behavior that would be potentially harmful to our staff or students.” As a result, the district will be looking primarily for convictions they consider serious—such as violent crimes, sex crimes, or crimes involving children—as well as for drug offenses. The district will allegedly pay more attention to recent criminal activity, with leeway given for crimes that occurred when the prospective volunteers were young.

The district may adopt a repeat background check policy going forward under which volunteers need to get new background checks every few years, coverage indicates. As of right now, no such policy is in place. The district is considering how often it should require follow-up checks with the likely interval being every five years. Since Newton USD 373 will be screening all active, regular volunteers starting this fall, the district claims there won’t be any need for follow-up checks for at least a few years.

Per coverage, each volunteer will need to pay a fee for his or her own background check. School board members said the charge would be $19 per check. The district has already conducted 80 or more volunteer background checks so far this school year to keep up with the rush of start-of-term elementary school field trips.


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