Background Checks for School Volunteers: Helpful or The Opposite?

Hi Folks! Here’s a post by Sharon Kennedy Wynne, a reporter/editor  at the Tampa Bay Times (formerly The St. Petersburg Ties) about a disturbing trend: Requiring background checks for school volunteers. It’s a trend we should fight for three reasons:

1 – The assumption behind it is that any adult interacting with any child in any capacity could easily be a predator. Talk about a PERVERSE view of the homeroom mom!  

2 – The checks don’t actually provide the kind of safety they’re supposed to guarantee. 

3 – The checks cost money. Whether that cash comes from a parent’s pocket or the school’s, it could pay for something far more valuable. And that’s not to mention the parents who will simply NOT pay to volunteer. Why should they?  

Kudos to Sharon for getting the word out about unchecked background check mania. (And a thank you for to her for quoting Free-Range Kids!)  – L. 

Expensive Background Checks for School Volunteers? by Sharon Kennedy Wynne

The Pinellas County School Board had an interesting discussion recently about what level of background checks they should be doing on school volunteers. A strict reading of the district’s policy would require that any volunteers who are going to be unsupervised with children get a more rigorous screening – a Level II background check that can cost more than $100. This would affect parents who drive a carload of kids on a school field trip, something a lot of schools do to save money on expensive charter buses. It could even be applied to parents who are out in the hallway doing some tutoring one-on-one.

“We want parents on campus…but are we making it tough for them to do it?”  Board chairwoman Robin Wikle asked.

Here’s a thought: Maybe this whole “err on the side of caution, rather than risk harm coming to a child” is just a lot of expensive hooey that does little — or maybe even nothing — to protect children. But it sure makes the adults feel better, like they are doing something.

Here’s what this background check shows (and doesn’t show) A Level 1 background screening, which volunteers already routinely get, requires an employment history check, statewide criminal correspondence checks through FDLE (a name-based check), and a check of the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website and may include local law enforcement checks.

A Level II background screening requires all of that, plus fingerprinting for statewide criminal history checks through FDLE and national criminal history checks through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and may include local law enforcement checks.

So Jerry Sandusky would have passed a Level II check with flying colors since he hadn’t been arrested in the last five years, that is until he was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. So this doesn’t really find anything. But it makes the folks in charge of the system feel like they are doing something.

I have a friend who is an engineer who works for a defense contractor. He has high-level security clearance through the Pentagon, and can go to super-secret government locations in Iraq if needed. But he checked with his kids’ school and since he doesn’t have a Level II background check he wouldn’t be able to drive a vanload of kids to a soccer tournament.

District staff members said volunteers are checked on an annual basis – though if anyone is arrested that triggers a notice right away – and the cost of a Level II screening is good for five years. About 13,000 volunteers were screened last year – including the less rigorous screening – and fewer than 50 were rejected.

One of my favorite writers on this topic of child safety hysteria is Lenore Skenazy, author the deeply logical book Free Range Kids and of the blog by the same name who has long argued that we need to get some sanity. On school background checks she wrote:

First of all, if there are any studies that show kids are getting molested right and left by parents who volunteer at recess duty or on field trips, I haven’t seen them. It seems kind of hard to molest a kid in the middle of a trip to the petting zoo.

She goes on to conclude:

This whole “background check” deal falls into the ever-growing category of trying to make extremely unlikely events extremely unlikely.  Just as a manufacturer will recall a stroller if 1 child in 36,000 gets his fingers pinched in a wheel,  just as a park district will remove all the merry-go-rounds lest some child possibly hurt herself, just as a principal will forbid kids from playing tag because someone could trip, we are now going to excessive lengths to make it harder for helpful parents to help a school,  when we should be doing just the opposite.

What galls me is this comes at time when the school budget for paper — yes PAPER — has been slashed and teachers are begging parents to donate printing cartridges so they can print out their tests. That $100 per volunteer would sure buy a lot of paper and ink…. –Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Sharon followed this post up with another one, worrying that the county’s insistence on elaborate background checks could mean a year without school field trips. You can read it right here. – L.

60 Responses to Background Checks for School Volunteers: Helpful or The Opposite?

  1. Warren September 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Wow, and I thought our background checks were a pain in the ass. Here it is done by the provincial police. They search your past for criminal records, and then issue a letter to be taken to the school, stating if you passed or failed. Only the police actually see you record, if you have one. But this process is expensive. Not only do you have to pay for the check, it can only be done by your local detatchement, which makes no sense. It is a computer check. I could not scoot out on lunch and apply, because the local detatchment for me, is almost an hour from work, near where I live. Thus two afternoons off, with lost wages just to do it. One to file for it, and another to pick it up.

    The one’s in Florida include an employment check? What the hell? What in the blue hell does that have to do with anything?

  2. Jim Collins September 24, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    One thing that has to be considered is who does these background checks. These have become a big business. Our local School Board was just approached by a company who wanted to provide this service for them. They promised to make donations to the sports teams and the band if they received a contract.

  3. Sarah in WA September 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    When I was teaching a low-income kindergarten class, I had several parents offer to volunteer. They filled out their background check forms, I turned them in, and about a month later I got a notice that ONE parent (out of about a dozen) had passed and was okay to volunteer in the classroom. I asked the office staff about when I could expect to hear about the others.

    “Oh, it takes a while,” they said. Well, how long? “We don’t know. The district takes care of it.” I taught that class from September through January (I was a long-term leave sub) and never heard back on any of the other parents. That was over half the school year, and I had no opportunity to actually set up a volunteer schedule and have the parents in the room on a regular basis. It would have been so beneficial to the kids, in an over-crowded classroom, to have that extra help. And many of them were not getting academic support at home, either.

    It was such a shame. And why? Because the district had better things to do, and better ways to spend its money. But yet, could these parents be in the classroom without the background check? Absolutely not!

    There is a ripple effect here. The teachers have less help, they can’t reach as many students, and some start slipping through the cracks. Parents who want to help can’t. But, you know, we’re all a lot safer. [Insert eye roll here.]

  4. Melissa September 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    That’s nothing – our county (in Florida) recently informed us that if we want to come in to have lunch with our elementary aged children (something of a tradition at our school where the parents/grandparents have a separate little room off (but in full view) the cafeteria they can eat with their child in) – you have to have at least the level I screening done.

    To eat with your own kid!

    The reasoning being other children might also be in the room – even though their parents/adult are required to be with them for them to be in that area.

    Crazy and a waste of our school boards time and money.

  5. Kasi September 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    I generally agree with you. But I also know that in most cases of molestation, it is someone the child knows, and that predators do deliberately put themselves in situations where they have access to a lot of kids so they can pick the best victim. While not every volunteer is a predator… I’m not going to knock background checks for people that want regular access to my child. Yes, it costs money and may deter some good people; but hit may also deter some bad ones. And since I don’t get to personally vet the school volunteers, unlike choosing my own childcare…. I’m for it. There’s a difference, to me, between ‘Free Range’ and ‘no precautions’.

  6. Lollipoplover September 24, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    With background checks required, you run the risk of alientating many folks you WANT around your kids. Nothing guarantees our children safe. Jerry Sandusky would pass any of these background checks.

    I told this story before, my husband was “flagged” when volunteering to coach our daughter’s sports team. On name only. The report said he was in jail in Florida for rape for 30 years. And it included a photo- different race, 100 more pounds, and in another state’s prison. But HE was flagged.

    When we as a society trust an outside company to tell us who is OK and who is not OK to be around our children vs. a community setting it’s own standards and using our own judgement we are doomed.

  7. Tracey September 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    My daughter’s (Catholic) school requires a background check as well as a 4-hour “Keeping Children Safe” course for all parent volunteers. I have declined to take the course because of this whole notion of “perceived safety”…so I am left to cheer on the sidelines rather than sell concessions, take tickets, etc. at sporting events. I cannot volunteer at the annual festival, be a room mom, or do anything that has any contact whatsoever with other children. It’s ridiculous really…I can’t wait until my child is finished with this school!!!

  8. Bill Anderson September 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    This is all part of the overall bureaucratization of Americans. For EVERYTHING we demand procedures, procedures, and more procedures. The assumption is that the procedures alone will keep our children safe.

    This is not unlike the regulatory process elsewhere. For example, with much environmental regulation, results don’t matter; the only thing that matters is whether or not the bureaucratically-approved equipment is used and that the person got all of the requisite signatures.

    As we have become more and more a nation of bureaucrats, we should expect to see the bureaucratic mentality creep into everything else in our lives.

  9. Roger September 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    It’s interesting tat government security clearances were mentioned. I’m in the Navy, and I, too, have a secret, pentagon-issued security clearance. It’s required of me so that I can be stationed on a ballistic missile submarine. Not too many people know much about them and for good reason.

    But guess what? I can’t volunteer at my daughter’s school either. Why? I was deployed during the time the school was doing the screenings. I have to wait until next year because I was not available by phone, since i was several hundred feet underwater.

    The sad thing is, I’m here now, and while I don’t really want to pay for the school’s background check, I would if I had to. But I can’t. I missed my chance.

  10. Marion September 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    It’s creepy to think that the school administration assumes a good percentage of parents are too dangerous to be around children.

  11. Corey September 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    I want to point out another major problem with these background checks. There is ZERO protection in most of these organizations for the privacy of the volunteer.

    Consider what you provide to a school district (or some small community hockey team, which is worse) in order to undergo these checks. You give them concrete identifying information, including information on past employment, addresses, etc. This is plenty of information to steal someone’s identity. If some political firefight erupts in the local T-ball team, do you really want to ‘leaders’ to have a file with that information about you in it?

    The risk of a child being abused is very small. The chance that a background check will do any good is very low. Compared these to the (probably) much larger risk that your detailed identifying information (poorly secured by amateur organizations) is stolen and you are defrauded… this adds up to us substituting a very real risk for an imaginary risk; to our detriment.

    When an organization asks me to undergo a background check to volunteer, my answer is always the same: “Show me your policy for how the information I submit for the background check is secured and protected from unauthorized access.”

    Typically, this ends the conversation. They lose out on a volunteer (a mathematician and physicist, no less) and gain nothing at all for their safety contrivances.

    It’s asinine.

  12. Dave September 24, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    This makes people feel good that they are protecting children when in fact they are doing nothing of real value. We are more concerned about our feelings then the children’s safety. It the children were our real concern we would make decisions based on the facts not on worse case fears.

  13. Kels September 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    As a church volunteer with kids, we maintain a fairly simple policy of having “two-deep” supervision (don’t leave a single adult in a room with a kid with a closed door). No background checks, but it does provide some safeguards that may actually help prevent abuse.

  14. Warren September 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Just out of curiousity, how many children were abducted, molested or whatever by school volunteers, before the onslaught of background checks?

  15. Jennifer September 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    My daughter’s school requires a background check that includes fingerprinting, as well as a 3 day (2 hour per day) Learning Leaders training in order to be a volunteer. I think it is all just so the principal can “guarantee” to all parents that anyone working with their kids has been screened and is “safe.” I agree that it does discourage some people from volunteering to begin with. All prospective volunteers are parents anyway and besides they are never alone with any children. They do things like help check out books in the library and monitor the lunchroom. Seems like a lot of unnecessary work to me.

  16. AngieT September 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Our after school care program now has a policy that any person picking up a child has to be put through the raptor system. The idea being pushed is that it keeps people who shouldn’t be on school grounds away. The director already swears that he has caught 2 people that weren’t supposed to be on school grounds. I just don’t see the point of wasting the money just to catch 2 people. When you go to pick up the kids you enter the gym. Sign out on the digital system. Your kid is there with all the other kids and at least 2 or 3 aides. The only hidden area is the directors office. So exactly what is going to happen in that time frame and open area? I already have to pay $45 for supplies each year,which isn’t much, but why not put the funds for the raptor search to I don’t know school supplies? Also, as the article points out, people like Sandusky wouldn’t be caught. They are just screening out the extreme few at a great expense.

  17. AztecQueen2000 September 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    Recently I was considering putting my daughter in a Girl Scout troop. In order to do so, I had to register MYSELF (as an adult member) AND sit through volunteer training, including submitting to a background check. I have a three-year-old who was too young to participate! I wasn’t planning to stay! And even if I was, I have to go through a background check just to be in the same room as the meeting?

  18. pentamom September 24, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    AztecQueen — that sounds like a scam to rope all parents into volunteering. You can’t have your kid in the group unless you sign up as a volunteer, and then when they want something, “Hey, you’re signed up as a volunteer!”

    Mind you, I’m all in favor of encouraging parents to volunteer, but this mandatory stuff has got to go. The parents with lots of little kids can take their turn when their youngest kids are older — not everyone has to do everything, in order for kids to be allowed to participate in stuff that is SUPPOSED to be open to all.

  19. maggie September 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    This is, thankfully, not a problem I have with the school my children go to. In fact, all parents are asked to volunteer at least one hour a month. There are volunteers who sit in the hallway with a child and listen to them read. No one seems to have any problems with it. I certainly don’t!

  20. Allison September 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    The state of Kentucky no longer pays for background checks for school volunteers and the cost has been passed along to parents. They are valid for three years and have to be repeated then. I’m also a girl scout leader and have to have a background check for that but they don’t have access to the local school district information so I have to pay for that one separately. As will my husband, even though he works for the school district and underwent a rigorous background check before he could start work there.

  21. AngieT September 24, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    @AztecQueen2000 – This is off topic but you might consider still looking at the GS summer programs. Your daughter doesn’t have to be a member of a troop to go to those and they are a great summer experience (my last time at camp I took a 3 week canoe trip in the Boundary waters in Minnesota). Regardless of how strict they seem with parent volunteers there are many skills that camp can help teach. It is probably from those experiences that I was able to function on my own at college at all.

  22. Donna September 24, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    I wonder how much income level of parents at the school has to do with this. When I lived in Georgia, I lived in the inner city. About 50% of the school was free lunch kids from the ‘hood. And we were one of the best schools. Many schools had 100% free lunch student bodies.

    As of when I left last year, there was absolutely no district-wide requirement for any type of background check for volunteers. I don’t know whether schools could individually require them or not but mine definitely didn’t. I simply put my name on a PTO list to volunteer, got an email, signed up for a time and showed up.

    I imagine that we have MANY parents who would not pass a background check. Not for sexual offenses, but that is not all they look for. There are likely a substantial number of parents convicted of assault, drug offenses, and theft. In fact, when I went to pick my daughter up one day and a guy, also there picking up a child, was on the phone talking about his conversation with his probation officer eariler that day.

    I’d be perfectly happy if some of them volunteered (few do). Our kids know they have our support and that we value their education without volunteering. It makes a HUGE difference to an underpriveged kid to have his parents come into the school to volunteer. They live in an environment where education is devalued and debased. To have a parent who supports their education is rare and meaningful.

    The next county over – the lily-white suburb to our city – requires background checks and classes for parent volunteers.

  23. kamila September 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    Here is an interesting take to consider. I don’t really know how the checking system works if you apply for a statewide clearance – do they check a record only in your state or nationwide? What with people who have a record in other states? And here is a good one – there will not be any worldwide record check. So I, being an immigrant from abroad and living in States for only few years, could have steal, molested and raped, be jailed etc. and at the end I would pass all the checks…

  24. Vicki Jacobsen September 24, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    AtecQueen — Same thing happened to me. I wanted my daughter to join a Girl Scout troop. They wanted personal references on me and wanted me to take time off work to sit through a training session. Needless to say my daughter isn’t in Scouts.

  25. Donna September 24, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    @kamila – A statewide check would only pick up convictions within the state, unless somehow the state was notified of the conviction (ie a drug conviction in another state may appear because the local license was suspended as a result). Since sex offenders on the registry are required to reregister when they change states (although some don’t and aren’t caught for years), they would be noted. People convicted of sex offenses from other states who are not required to register (conviction too old, outside the registry) would never be known.

    And state records are not complete. When I worked in Georgia most criminal histories we received on our clients had missing items. Countless arrests with no resolution. Prison sentences with no corresponding arrest or conviction. Convictions that belonged to other people – including one guy whose criminal history reflected a rape conviction from a place he’d never been.

  26. Brian September 24, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    Another problem–the background checks sometimes don’t check enough information to rule out false positives. I found this out using TransUnion’s SmartMove check in preparation for renting–which came back with a hit for my common name on the Missouri sex offender registry with the same birthyear–not the same birthday, they didn’t check that. I’ve never been arrested, nor have I ever lived in Missouri. At least that one let me call and figure out what was going on, but an earlier commenter said that in their neighborhood, the applicant doesn’t get to see the check? So if I applied there, I might fail a background check for no legitimate reason? Absurd.

  27. Steve Bonds September 24, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    Bruce Schneier coined the term “security theater” to describe things like this. They make people feel better, knowing is safe because of . However, when you look at the actual security the showy items provide, it’s not so good. This gets us the worst of both worlds– an expensive operation that provides little benefit.

    Expensive is fine, if the benefit is good. And if the benefit isn’t going to be good, then at least go cheap.

    Here’s my idea on background checks, either

    1) Perform the most pitifully minimal check possible at the lowest possible cost. (Cheap and low-quality) or
    2) Pick a certain percentage of the people you want to check and subject them to multi-week surveillance by a paid private investigator. (Expensive, but high-quality.)

    Option 2 will potentially root out uncaught sex offenders, but it can be costly. Option 1 won’t catch anyone, but it will help quell the nervousness of some folks. Pick one. Just stay out of the expensive-but-useless middle.

  28. Steve Bonds September 24, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    My prior comment got trimmed in the middle, “knowing is safe because of” should read “knowing some item is safe because of something showy that was done.

  29. Warren September 24, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    @Steve Bonds
    Why bother with either option, even cheaper. Remember, alot of people are like me, and have to pay to have the background checks done. So basically I am paying to have myself checked out.

    Look at it this way, most of those kids that I am getting screened for, so that I am deemed fit or safe to interact with? They have been over to my house, stayed over at my house, ate at my house, gone to the movies, park, trailer and so on. Why? Because they are friends of my kids.
    The first time a parent ever even hints at asking if I have had a background check, so that their kid can visit mine, will be politely asked to leave, and not come back.
    Also take into consideration, I have been asked to help at the school, as well as coach softball, and hockey. I have to do seperate checks for each entity each year. That is $500, in fees, and well over $1000 in lost earnings for the time off, just to deal with the searches. Not to mention the time off to meet my commitments to these organizations.
    Sorry, but this is one quality coach that doesnt have 1500+ a year, just to make worry warts feel better.

  30. Christina September 24, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    I was supposed to go on my daughter’s first Kindergarten field trip tomorrow, but received a note today saying I can’t go because I didn’t fill out a background check form at least 48 hours in advance.

    This is ridiculous. And sad that I have to miss her field trip.

  31. Lollipoplover September 24, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

    @Christina- that is so sad. School trips are usually the highlight of the year!

    We don’t have background checks at our school. I live in a tight knit community where everyone pretty much knows everyone. All are encouraged to help out in some way at school. There are many parents who are engineers and scientists (we have several pharma companies near by) who volunteer the entire day for Science Fun day and come up with some seriously cool experiments. We see these folks only this one day at school, but the day wouldn’t be the same without them. Money is tight in most schools- budget cuts make all resources valuable. Volunteers are a blessing. Why are we scaring them away when money is tight?

  32. CrazyCatLady September 25, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    Doesn’t the Girl Scouts have some kind of wording that they are open to all, regardless of finances? Or is it now only open to the middle class who are well enough off that they can take time off from work? Because it sure sounds that way.

    When our school district institutes parent pay, I am out of there. We do a charter type homeschooling, and if I have to pay to be volunteer with the classes and school trips, it will not be worth it at all. I certainly can homeschool on my own. Right now parents have to fill out a form, there is not a requirement for parents to pay. It only covers in state, which didn’t do much when we moved into the state 3 days before school started.

  33. delurking September 25, 2012 at 1:13 am #

    Look, if you make ridiculous arguments, even your reasonable ones will be ignored:
    “So Jerry Sandusky would have passed a Level II check with flying colors since he hadn’t been arrested in the last five years, that is until he was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. So this doesn’t really find anything.”

    What do you mean “So this doesn’t really find anything”? If your argument is that background checks are a waste of resources because the benefits are not worth the costs, then you lose all credibility when you pretend that there are no benefits. A level II check, by your own description, catches people with criminal records in the FBI database and others. It does no good to pretend that is nothing.

    As for the friend who has a DoD security clearance, why doesn’t he just show it to the school? Oh, yeah, he can’t, because he doesn’t actually have anything to show them, and his facility’s security office will only send records of security clearances to other facilities authorized to handle DoD security clearances, if he has a business need to travel to those facilities. I guess the school is just supposed to believe anyone who claims they have a DoD clearance.

    So, you may be right, but you have offered no support for your position.

  34. Warren September 25, 2012 at 1:49 am #

    @delurking,
    Okay how bout putting it this way. If a level II is good for 3 yrs, than Jerry Sandusky would have passed 5 of them, while he was commiting his acts. Now tell me that these checks really work.

  35. maggie September 25, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    Wow! I’m not sure what’s happening in your neck of the woods, regarding Girl Scouts, but where I live, if you want your daughter to be in scouts, all you have to do is find a suck…I mean, a leader and enroll her.:) If you plan on being an assistant, or a cookie mom, or drive the girls on a field trip, you need to register as an adult member and pay your $12.00, but that’s pretty much it. Maybe a training course or two, but if you just want to enroll your daughter, you can! And most of it can be done online. I think most of this absolute crap, and find it almost insulting, bit it in no way affects s girls ability to be in scouts. I’m a leader, and we do get asked quite a bit about other adults are reluctant to lead a troop, or even help, and I would say all this extensive red tape is a major problem.

  36. maggie September 25, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    Oh! After reading these stories, I appreciate my kids school even more. In the 6 years my children have been going there, the only background check I have ever needed was for a state funded program. And that was only once in 6 years. Our school never seems to lack for volunteers:)

  37. maggie September 25, 2012 at 2:16 am #

    I suggest all of you with problems with the Girl Scouts contact your local council and make sure you have the facts straight before you write them off:)

  38. BONIFACE ANTONY September 25, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    EVERYTHING WORKS FINE ACCORDING THE WAY SOMEONE TAKES IT. VOLUNTEERING CAN BE HELPFUL OR OPPOSITE, WHEN WE COME TO UNDERSTAND THE REAL MAP OF VOLUNEERING. THIS IS OUR HEART GIVING,ANYTHING FROM THE HEART SUCCEEDS, BECAUSE FOR ANY COST YOU DO TO PLEASE YOUR HEART, AHSANTE

  39. CrazyCatLady September 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Where I live the biggest employer gets the DoD clearances. And issues id cards to employees. But no, the schools will not take that as proof. They have to do their own, probably as part of a contract with some company that says they will check everyone and not allow anyone to avoid this.

  40. Suze September 25, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    When the first background checks came out in my neck of the woods (hey Warren; Northern Ontario, Canada…. pay attention !!!!!) I went and got one. My son was in grade 6 and we were told to go pick up a form at our City Police Station and fill it out and take it back. It cost us $20 at that time. I then was told that some school principals were reimbursing parents for the charge but some weren’t which I thought was unfair. Either we ALL pay or NONE of us pay.

    I remember when filling that form out that I had to declare all people in my household. I may be wrong about this but I was understanding this as if one of the other people in my house had an “issue” then I was then NOT declared fit to volunteer. No one in my home was an issue so no trouble. But I was shocked at how quick volunteering went down because of the cost factor and at that time the check was only good for 2 years and then you had to reapply, pay; go though the process again.

    I’m shocked at what you poor folks in the states must go through. Your checks are more expensive and rigorous than ours here. I’m surprised those schools get any volunteers with this “You’re a potential pedophile/criminal/druggy/malcontent” attitude first and a helpful parent second :(

  41. Jen Connelly September 25, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    Huh, the Girl Scout thing sounds like a scam. My older two girls were scouts when they were little. My oldest was a Brownie in 1st and 3rd grades (in 2006/07 and 2008/09) and my middle daughter was a Daisy in kindergarten and 1st grade (in 2008-2010). I never volunteered to do anything with them, never needed background or anything.

    Either they changed something in the last 2 years or they are scamming parents to get them to volunteer. I have never heard of moms needing to be members for their kids to be part of a troop. That’s nuts.

  42. Shell September 25, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Precisely why my wife and I rarely darken the door of any of my children’s schools. We have six – in grades 11, 9, 8, 2, and 1, and voluntary Pre-K , and in four different schools – and only the youngest’s school (a daycare provider who participates in the VPK program) doesn’t require a background check for parents to help out in the classroom or volunteer at a special event *or even to just stop in to visit the classroom* (in the case of the youngest ones).

    Four years ago we learned that a man we’d called a friend for five years, that I’d known for eight years and worked for during the first two of those, is a pedophile. He was working his wiles on my oldest daughter, who was 11 at the time we found him out, and had had unfettered access to her for over two years because he has two daughters near mine’s age and they were friends with my girl. We trusted him implicitly because he appeared a good sort, had been a good man to work for, was a highly-skilled and professional security officer (the field he and I worked together in), and was a former police officer. The only reason he was found out was he got careless and his ex-wife found some things that made her suspicious.

    We learned after his arrest that he had done the same bit with another family who never suspected him but ended his contact with their daughter by moving several hours away for her father to take a better job.

    The point is, he had passed numerous background checks for police and security jobs and passed all with flying colors. Had he not thought he would always get away with it Lord knows what else might have gone on.

    So no, I’m not going to “prove” I’m a worthwhile human being by submitting to a worthless process. And “If you don’t have anything to hide you shouldn’t have a problem with it” (as was said to me by an administrator at one school) is complete and utter BS.

  43. JamieC September 25, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    I think the Girl Scout thing varies state to state. My stepmom is a Girl Scout leader and wanted my dad, a former Eagle Scout who grew up on the water, to help teach boating safety to her troop, but wasn’t able to get her counsel to approve it unless he had a background check and took a class, because if the canoe overturned and the girls fell out he might have to help them back in. And even though there would be other adults there, there was a “danger” that might touch them inappropriately while helping them back onboard.

  44. Beth September 25, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    I’d like to know what kinds of backgrounds eliminate someone from being able to help in the classroom. Is it a couple of pot busts in college? An OWI? Or is it just child abuse-related crime?

  45. An September 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    The background checks may be a good idea IF the people DO have prior convictions…but if not, how will they help? Our (Catholic) school does do them, but also has other policies in place, such as an adult cannot be alone with a child in a closed room, etc. You can’t blame them, really, with the history being what it is, so I very much approve. I as a parent, would not be comfortable with my son being alone with a priest as he puts on his altar server clothing, as much as I like my priest. These things DID happen, as much as we are shocked by it, and they happened when adults had access and opportunity.

  46. Alecta September 25, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    I had to do a background check to volunteer with my church’s children, but it was pretty simple and I didn’t have to pay for it. I filled out a form, handed it to the director of the children’s program and was free to go. I didn’t have to wait for results, though I’m sure they’d let someone know if something came up under their name.

    Also, I find the catholic school’s background checks kind of funny, considering the church’s history with shufling priests who molest kids around on purpose. They should fear the people employed by the church more than the parents of the kids!

  47. Shell September 26, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    Madame Chairman, permission to revise and extend? Thank you. 😉

    Alecta’s post reminded me that my wife was told she would have to undergo a background check to simply sit in Sunday School/Children’s Church with one of our boys. He’s seven, her sister’s son that we’re raising, and is at times a badly-behaved brat because his mother paid him no mind the first six years of his life. He’s better since he’s been with us but has his moments and she just wanted to be nearby until he got used to it. Nope, gotta have a background check, they said. So, he doesn’t do Sunday School or Childrens’ Church, he sits with Mommy (he knows she’s his aunt but calls her Mommy because she loves him) in big people’s church. But that’s OK with him because he’s with her.

    And one further about the schools. We weren’t allowed to attend Field Day last Spring – to stand outside the school and watch our little boys have fun – because we hadn’t undergone background checks. There is no word to describe that except “ridiculous”.

  48. JJ September 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    I have had to get a couple of background checks for activities and while I thought it was a pain I didn’t think much about it “since I had nothing to hide”. HOWEVER, reading through these comments and soaking them up, I am realizing how ridiculous background checks truly are. Shell was supposed to get a background check to watch Field Day. Field Day for crying out loud!!! I don’t the administrators at the top are weird/evil/crazy but I think they are bending to misguided parental pressure and insurance requirements and legal advice, etc. It is time to stop the madness! We need to speak up and stand up and tell administrators that we think the background checks are useless and effectively dangerous (due to false sense of security). Institutions rely on volunteers. The more of us that take a stand, the more they will have to take a hard look at whether this current system works.

  49. Jenn September 26, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    I find it ridiculous that as a teacher, I’ve had a background check plus fingerprinting. This is annually checked to verify that I have not committed a crime, nor has my fingerprints come up in relation to a crime. I became a leader with my son’s Scouts unit and I still have to do the basic background check. I am never alone with the children (they’re 5 to 7 years old) and I’m unsure why I statement from my school board would not cover me when as a teacher I have a lot more responsibility and training. Waste of my time and taxpayers resources to have me do a background check just to volunteer to be a Scouts leader with my child!

  50. Buffy September 26, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    I HATE the “if you have nothing to hide…” rationale. I may be quite open about brushes with the law I might have had in my younger, wilder days (which of course does not include any pedophilia or child abuse). Just because I don’t hide it, doesn’t mean I want the teachers, administrators, and school support staff to know about it, and to be “that guy” that can’t help in the classroom.

    Bottom line is, at night my children come home to me. If I am so terrible that I can’t even pass out cupcakes at a class party, shouldn’t my kids have been taken from me long ago?

  51. AM/HighDesert September 27, 2012 at 4:37 am #

    As an educator, I can’t say that the new screening procedures have decreased the number of volunteers in my classroom. A few years ago I had to set up seperate parent conferences for a couple who couldn’t put aside their differences to talk about their child for 15 minutes – go figure. So I’m talking to “Dad”, by myself after everyone else goes home, and things start turning odd. He’s talking over me, getting sketchy, and I shut down the conference. Find out a year later, he’s been convicted of a violent felony. But he has “eductational rights”. Now we NEVER conference alone, have the whole grade level in one big room and everyone stays on the nicey nice. Could he have volunteered at that time? I don’t really know.

  52. Zang Weina September 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Background checks are 100% effective at achieving their primary purpose, which is protecting school administrators. Protecting kids is a side benefit that occasionally pays out. Background checks are available and when a child at your school is inevitably molested, the thinking goes, people will ask questions. School admins fear that if they are not able to say that they did everything they could then they will lose everything they have worked so hard to achieve. Their experience and degrees will be rendered useless and they will end up running a scanner at the grocery store.

    It all goes back to the fear that every other man is a child molester or a lawyer just biding their time until they are provided with an opportunity to spring into action.

  53. Donna September 27, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    AM/High Desert – That is EXACTLY the attitude I hate and that is destroying America. ONE scary moment occurred that was handled with absolutely nothing occurring and now life must change because we must assume everyone is a violent felon and every person who has ever been convicted of a violent felony remains forever dangerous to everyone and likely to go off on slight provocation.

    The fact is that you felt threatened and ended the encounter. No harm, no foul. Just like you could of if he had he been volunteering and something bothered you about him. Just like I hope you would if someone clears a background check (not all violent people have convictions) and still sets off your red flag.

    Further not all people convicted of violent felonies at some time in their lives pose a danger. You don’t know the facts of the case. Many people who commit violent crimes never go on to repeat those violent acts. People who acted under serious provocation. People who were young and stupid at the time and now have grown. People who would never do anything violent but did drive the get-away car for a person they loved (convicted exactly as if they dis the act). Heck, maybe they were wrongly convicted and did nothing. Many years ago their was a big fight over allowing a woman who was convicted of murder but had gone to law school become a licensed lawyer. Behind the murder conviction was the story that she had killed her father after years of sexual abuse when her mother, CPS and the courts refused to protect her. She did eventually get her bar license but she would be deemed still unfit to hand out cupcakes on her kid’s birthday at school based on your requirements.

  54. Tara Neumann September 27, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    I agree that this is ridiculous. It doesn’t do any more to keep the kids safe than having parents stop in the doorway to do 15 jumping jacks every time they enter the school, yet for some reason everyone is ok with requiring background checks. Background checks wouldn’t have prevented Jerry Sandusky or James Holmes or any other bad guys from being allowed to volunteer in our schools prior to their arrests. It’s a CYA move by the district, and that’s all it is. I might feel a little more ok with this if the schools came out and admitted that instead of claiming it’s for the safety of the kids.

    I tried to argue with friends that it was crazy, because we’re just parents trying to spend more time with our kids. It’s not like we’re some stranger off the street volunteering to spend time with a bunch of kids we don’t even know. My friend’s argument was that not all parents are good people, and that just because you have a child doesn’t make you an ok person. My argument to that is, we don’t have to worry about the crappy parents trying to volunteer and possibly corrupting or spanking our kids. They would never be volunteering, because they don’t want to spend any more time with their kids than they have to. That’s what makes them crappy parents to begin with.

    But now, if I want to spend more time with my kids, I have to jump through hoops. And because my kids actually still want to be seen with me (I’m sure that’ll change in HS), I’m forced to pay for a background check annually and fill out a bunch of useless forms.

  55. crlzmte October 2, 2012 at 6:17 am #

    You always have two choices. One choice is the familiar one to sacrifice your background to the authorities. (without fear) The second choice is not to sacrifice this that is awake and present, whatever you happen to be. (with fear). You can choose not to sacrifice this for the next promise of a better moment, a better event, or a safer experience for the well being of each child. This is your choice ~ To be true to what’s true or not. This invitation ask you to cease bargaining with life, with the moment, yourself, your teacher, your friend, your mate. Just stop. Everyone has a choice in what they give their life to. Especially what gives Life to the teachers and children.

  56. Rosalie October 6, 2012 at 7:32 am #

    What happens if a person DOES have something to hide? What if 50 years ago you shoplifted? What if you used to have an anger problem and hit someone but have since completely overcome that? Does that disqualify you from working with children? And even if it doesnt, it means that someone outside of the justice system gets to see your criminal record – something you are desperately trying to keep away from and leave behind. What angers me most is churches who do this. They preach forgiveness and new life from the pulpit but if you want to make birthday cards for the kids program you need to expose your past. So what do you do if you have a prostitution conviction as a teenager and now, as the wife of a senior pastor your church brings in background checks? Do you – as the Childrens Pastor – have to quit?

    It is first class idiocy designed to give the appearance of protection while giving none in reality. Do you know what the difference between this policy is and those of the TSA who supposedly protect travellers from terrorism?

    NONE

    Both are idiotic processes that have never yet caught anyone and more than likely, never will. And in the meantime, fewer people volunteer (or fly).

  57. Lizzy November 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    I live in Canada and criminal record checks cost up to $50.00. I think that requiring criminal record checks is the least we can do to protect our children. I am currently advocating to wave the cost as well as make criminal record checks mandatory. I agree, they may not always provide enough information, but at least it could deter anyone from volunteering who has unlawful intentions. There are so many organizations such as churches and sports teams that do not require these checks. I am a victim of sexual abuse by two Sunday school teachers from different churches. I think that it is a small process to go through that shows children and other vulnerable populations that we are being responsible and ensuring safety.

  58. Anika Burn January 11, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    It’s these kind of stories that hurt any recovery. I am tired of hearing these negative stories. Can’t we write something positive. Who will want to move here. And, let me say, property insurance is to high and is highway robbery. Someone is making way too much money at the expense of home owners. Of course people are leaving in droves, who wants to pay this kind of money. Makes you not want to pay your mortgage. Home value should be the same amount that it takes to rebuild. Then property insurance would make sense. To afford property insurance you have to have an extremely high deductable. Guess what, if there is a storm, no one will be able to afford their deductable.

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