In 2017, Nevada passed a law that demanded background checks for volunteers in schools. The law’s stated intention was to protect students from sexual predators and other threats. Per a report from The Nevada Independent, the law reportedly caused confusion and reduced engagement for parents and family members. Now, the state legislature is going back to the drawing board to clarify the law and reconsider its implementation.
Republican State Senator Heidi Gansert was behind the 2017 bill. She says that the legislation was intended for a specific subset of volunteers within the school environment: those who “were there on an ongoing basis” and spent unsupervised time with children.
After the law went into effect, school districts interpreted it in widely varying ways. The wording of the law stated that background checks were necessary for “regular volunteers.”
Per reports, the law had unintended consequences regarding volunteering throughout the state. A school district cited in the Nevada Independent began demanding background checks for virtually all volunteers—and charging those volunteers $60 apiece to finance the checks. This school district’s policy was not unique, in many parts of the state, prospective volunteers were left with an ultimatum: pay up for a fingerprint background check or stop volunteering.
In many cases, volunteers were reportedly left with little choice but to stop volunteering. For parents, grandparents, or other family members who wanted to engage at school, the standard $60 fee could sometimes be a sizable barrier. The Nevada Independent has published several stories about how the volunteer background check bill diminished engagement among low-income parents and families.
One school district has been trying to work through a loophole by suggesting that parents who can’t afford the background check fee volunteer no more than two times monthly. These parents technically avoid the “regular volunteer” classification, but the distinction remains murky statewide. Parents with criminal records expressed their worry that the law would bar them from taking an active role in their children’s schooling.
The state has taken steps to curb these unintended consequences. Last summer, then-governor Brian Sandoval passed an emergency regulation to help make the law less confusing. The regulation defined a “regular volunteer” as someone who volunteers at a school 1) four or more times per month or 2) once per week (or more) for at least four weeks in a row. It also created a few exemptions. For instance, school volunteers no longer have to go through the background check process if they have passed a background check for a governmental entity or a nonprofit organization within the last six months.
Gansert has introduced a new bill—Senate Bill 185—that will void both Sandoval’s regulation and large portions of the previous law. The intention is to “clean up” the regulation so that the legislation is less burdensome for school districts and volunteers. If the bill passes, Gansert says it will focus more on coaches, tutors, aides, and other volunteers “who are there every day and are unsupervised” rather than parents who come into the classroom intermittently and are rarely or never alone with students.