Schools Increase Background Checks of Volunteers

Schools Increase Background Checks of Volunteers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Parents volunteering to help out at school are being subjected to increased background checks, and in some cases even are being required to submit to fingerprinting.

Parents at the McGillis School, a private school affiliated with the Jewish Community Center, in Salt Lake City were told that new insurance regulations now require a background check on all employees and volunteers. That includes parents who work with students at McGillis.

So last week, they registered their names, Social Security numbers and inky fingertips with the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification. Other private schools around the valley are following suit.

A recent incident in the Granite School District refocused some attention on this issue in public schools, where background checks are done on employees, substitute teachers and classified staff, but usually not on parent volunteers.

A man walked into a Granite school, said he had a present for his daughter and asked to see her. The man had a Granite volunteer badge but was not the girl's father. School officials determined the man was a neighbor who was inappropriately interested in the girl, said district spokesman Randy Ripplinger.

State law says background checks are required for volunteers with substantial unsupervised interaction with students. But school officials say most volunteers are supervised by teachers or other school staff.

Room moms usually work closely with teachers, and students take school buses to field trips.

However, sometimes in the Davis School District, a bus will fill up and parents will want to drive kids. In these cases, schools are encouraged to choose drivers from a pool of parents who also are qualified to substitute teach and whose criminal histories have been checked.

"We do that rather than let someone go in a car with someone who hasn't had a background check," said Chris Williams, spokesman for Davis School District.

In Park City, most volunteers aren't checked except under special circumstances, said Tom VanGorder, head of the district's human resource department. "If a parent is assisting in chaperoning an overnight trip, for example, we do background checks, but it's fairly infrequent."

Greater restrictions on volunteers may have consequences too, Ripplinger said.

"We have a hard time recruiting volunteers as it is. It's the impression of the PTA and other folks that if we impose the fingerprinting and the background checks we will reduce our already strained volunteer resources," he said. "So we walk on pins and needles a little."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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