School Chaperone Background Check Rules and Best Practices

Are your children traveling on field trips with a convicted felon or one of America's Most Wanted? It might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. There could be hidden risks—but a school background check can help. See why vetting matters and what schools can do.

Is There a School Background Check for Chaperones? 

Field trips are a time-honored tradition in grade school. Providing valuable opportunities for learning and fun outside the classroom, hundreds of thousands of school trips take place every year. Managing a classroom full of children is already tough enough for one teacher—exiting the classroom environment can become almost impossible. That's where chaperones come into the picture—and ideally, so should a school background check.

Chaperones provide teachers with critical support during school trips, helping keep children together and safe throughout their experience. Most often, chaperones are parent volunteers of children in the class. Sometimes, they may be other teachers, school employees, or regular volunteers. Parents expect these people to be trustworthy and safe individuals themselves—but is that always true?

Unfortunately, the answer is "no."

Why Criminal Background Checks for Schools Matters So Much

Consider a shocking story from 2011 that grabbed headlines when it occurred. Late that year, a fourth-grade class from Seattle was on a school field trip. During the trip, one parent was astonished to recognize another parent who was acting as a chaperone on the trip. The parent wasn't surprised because they spotted an old friend—far from it. In reality, the parent realized the other chaperone was none other than one of the members of Washington state's "Most Wanted" list at the time.

Though no one was harmed, the potential danger to children, teachers, and even other parents was real. How could that happen? The school district involved had a requirement to conduct background checks for school chaperones, and the parent arrived at school on the day of the trip. They requested permission to attend the trip with their children just before departure. In this instance, the school chose to forgo a background check as an exception. It was not until the other parent recognized the man that anyone realized he was a felon with an active arrest warrant.

A school's core responsibility is preventing someone who is a potential danger to children or the public from being a chaperone. Enforcing background screening requirements can't happen effectively when organizations make exceptions or relax their rules. This surprising anecdote reveals what can happen when schools don't follow through and enforce their school volunteer background check procedures for due diligence consistently.

A rapid vetting solution could have solved both problems in this situation: providing the school with a way to quickly verify if someone can be a chaperone and detecting the red flags early. For example, a multi-jurisdictional criminal database search that returns results almost instantly—such as the US OneSEARCH—would have been a potential solution. Such tools could allow schools to conduct same-day vetting - preventing unauthorized parents from accessing functions is a critical safety step.

What Background Checks Do Schools Use?

How can schools ensure that a chaperone is suitable for the trip? Having a policy of using background checks only works if you have the proper vetting tools. These checks need not necessarily be as thorough or in-depth as a normal school background check. For example, there is no need to verify a parent's educational credentials or employment history when they will only accompany a class on a field trip.

However, criminal background checks are another story—arguably the most important. As you seek to verify whether a parent is suitable to be a chaperone, you may want to look for specific evidence. This might be a violent felony, a serious drug conviction, or even a sexual criminal offense. You have several options for finding the necessary information:

  • A multi-jurisdictional search of criminal records from around the country, compiled and kept up-to-date by professionals.
  • A state-level background check.
  • A county-level background check, if and when necessary, to verify recent criminal information.
  • A check of your state's sexual offender registry.

In some cities and states, background checks are only available through the state police or a government agency. This can create potential bottlenecks in the process, and in such areas, schools should plan to vet chaperones early to avoid problems nearer to the date of the field trip.

Additionally, it may be wise for schools to conduct an alias background check initially. These reports can indicate whether an individual may have criminal records associated with them under another or similar name. For schools that want to be thorough, this is an important step that can substantially improve the rest of the process.

Do Fair Chance or Ban the Box Laws Apply Here?

Nationwide, there has been a major push to adopt "Fair Chance" laws that limit how and when some organizations and employers can use background checks. Fair Chance laws require delaying background checks and providing procedures allowing applicants to dispute an employer's determination based on a criminal history report. These are also called "ban the box" laws, referring to the box on job applications that asks if one has ever been convicted of a felony.

Do schools need to worry about potential legal trouble from using background checks for chaperones in Fair Chance jurisdictions? Luckily, the answer, for now, seems to be "no." Since these checks are not for gainful employment but volunteer positions, most ban the box laws won't be relevant. 

However, that doesn't mean there are no regulations to follow. Be aware that the Fair Credit Reporting Act still applies in some ways, even if local ban the box or fair chance laws don't. The FCRA requires you to obtain an individual's consent before using a background check. As a best practice, it is wise to obtain written consent from an individual and to provide them with a standalone disclosure of their rights under the FCRA.

Equipping Your Organization for Safer Chaperoning

How can you be sure you aren't about to send kids to visit the zoo or a science museum with one of the FBI's Most Wanted? The right choices in building and powering up your screening policies will go a long way towards establishing the peace of mind your teachers, parents and school's children deserve. A strong policy, the right tools, and a consistently, firmly applied approach to all chaperones and parents are the ingredients for safety.

At backgroundchecks.com, we have a complete suite of school background check tools ready for educational organizations to put to work today. With our extensive Learning Center, you can explore more about the different kinds of vetting and build an understanding of the best way to foster safer school trips. Find out more about these tools now and create the confidence parents need from their children's schools today.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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