Making Schools Absurdly Safe

Don’t turn paranoia into policy! That’s the plea of this phenomenal Globe & Mail editorial. It was written because the Toronto District School Board is considering requiring background checks for all volunteer, a move the paper calls —

…a classic case of policy overreach preying on parental fear that eclipses common sense. 

Schools depend on volunteer parents to function. Parents, in turn, are eager for the opportunity, and raise their hands in droves. There are currently 32,000 on the TDSB’s volunteer lists. Tens of thousands of parent volunteers have passed through school hallways since amalgamation. The proposed new rule implicitly suggests that child predators lurk among them. Yet, according to a TDSB spokesperson, there has never been a single incident involving a volunteer threatening the safety of a child at TDSB school. Not one. Not ever.

There is no crisis of parents posing a threat to kids in schools. The TDSB’s proposed rule is designed to solve a problem which does not exist. But a TDSB spokesman says that all of these precautions are necessary, because, after all, “you can’t be too careful.”

That line of argument is deeply unhinged from reality. It feeds on irrational fear, rather than fact. And it ignores the obvious costs of these ridiculous rules. Requiring every parent to submit to a police check will discourage parents’ involvement in schools, turn some school trips into logistical nightmares, and infringe on privacy to an unprecedented degree. Yes, we can be too careful. …

Here’s the whole piece.

Toronto, get a grip!

Toronto, get a grip!

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57 Responses to Making Schools Absurdly Safe

  1. Mark Roulo May 4, 2014 at 12:38 am #

    My local Little League requires background checks for all volunteer coaches. So I just don’t volunteer. Interestingly, I can *help out* without being a volunteer (and without the background check). Security theater at its finest.

  2. QuicoT May 4, 2014 at 3:12 am #

    If it’ll keep Rob Ford from chaperoning a field trip I’m all for it!

  3. BL May 4, 2014 at 6:01 am #

    Can the parents do their own background checks on the school employees? And have them removed if they fail?

    I didn’t think so.

  4. This girl loves to Talk May 4, 2014 at 7:05 am #

    I’ve been wanting to say
    My four daughters have all attended the same daycare/kindergarten and in a 3 year gap between my children the school installed the buzz in stuff. I’m happy to say I just received an email a few weeks ago stating that they are looking at trialling removing the buzz in, as it has basically become a full time job for the workers to buzz people in (taking them away from the children!) and the office lady away from her work and helping out with the kids. And the noise is driving them crazy :)

    Interestingly when I still had to buzz in I asked why it wasn’t gone yet and they said they can’t disband it, its coded in to the door etc, the safety company have to come in to change it, its all very difficult etc. Sounds not very safe for ‘safety!’

    Just thought I would share a school going back to how things were ‘before’ and safe.

  5. SteveS May 4, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    Unfortunately, most schools in my area have gone to using background checks, though they sound much less involved than what Canada has. Ours are free, available instantly, and don’t include any mental health records. I still don’t believe they are necessary for volunteers, but that probably explains why most people don’t mind. Another problem is that the more common they become, the more it becomes an unacceptable risk to not do them.

    As for background checks for school employees, ours get them. We even have a state law that makes it a felony for a teacher or administrator to fail to report a misdemeanor or felony arrest, even if the prosecutor declines to press charges.

  6. BL May 4, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    “As for background checks for school employees, ours get them.”

    If that was a reference to my post, you missed my point. I meant the parents do their own checks, using their own criteria, and having full power to do what they wish with the results.

  7. CrazyCatLady May 4, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    Parents can certainly go ahead and search for what ever they want online for whom ever they want. Go ahead and Google the name of or look up the Facebook page of your teacher , the aids or lunch lady. Might be more informative than the police report, as that only reports what they have been caught for, but people sure post stupid and unflattering things on FB that haven’t “actually” gotten them in trouble. Google will show you plenty too.

    Just, be sure you are looking at the right person, not John Smith who lives two streets over and is the druggy, and is not the same John Smith who got the volunteer award two years ago from the city and is your 2nd grade son’s teacher.

  8. Lynda May 4, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    This has always been the case at our school. And is why my procrastinator husband doesn’t get to go on field trips… he hasn’t made it to fingerprinting yet.

    And now another level: For teacher appreciation week this year, I noticed a new rule for the Teacher breakfast and luncheon. Only store bought or restaurant food can be brought. I inquired about the reason, and it’s because of a new policy to prevent suing. Any home made food must be brought by someone certified in food handling. I may skip the parent volunteer appreciation breakfast this year, because for me it was all about those yummy home made breakfast casseroles!

    Are teachers really going to SUE the school district for food made for a teacher appreciation luncheon? I’m on a mission to find out if this has happened or is just “to be safe”.

  9. anonymous this time May 4, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    “You can’t be too careful.”

    Tell that to my daughter, who, because she was afraid that someone MIGHT throw up and that would be traumatic for her, decided to avoid the following:

    Riding in a car
    Riding on a bus
    Flying in an airplane
    Taking a ferry boat
    Parking lots (because people getting OUT of their cars might throw up)
    School (a kid threw up in her classroom once)
    Public washrooms ( a kid threw up all over the floor in one of those once when she was there)
    Movie theatres
    Fairs and festivals
    Public pools (because she heard that people throw up in those)
    Anywhere there is food being served
    The dinner table at our home

    Can you see where this was going? Basically, anywhere there are people, who have stomachs, and contents in their stomachs, was a danger.

    She had a PHOBIA. It was DEBILITATING and stopped her from participating in regular life.

    How is it that grown-ups who say “You can never be too safe” when imagining that just because there are PEOPLE and PEOPLE COULD BE CHILD PREDATORS that we must behave as if the children are in CONSTANT DANGER EVERYWHERE.

    This is a phobia, it is debilitating, it is stopping people from participating in regular life. It’s not healthy.

  10. fred schueler May 4, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    There was an incident locally where a highschool was going to require breathalyzer tests for attendance at the prom. Lots of flap and fuss in all directions, but I seem to have been the only one who asked what seemed to me the real question – “Has the school, and the whole standard model of institutionalized schooling, failed, if the students, after 12-14 years of instruction by the system, come to the event intoxicated?”

    I think this is a similar instance of the system being unable to evaluate a situation. I wrote a piece for ‘Home Rules’ some years ago about the natural selection of those students to whom the school system is least offensive being the ones to, in each generation, come back to run the schools, making them incresingly offensive to the general population in each generation. This would seem to be another instance of control freaks who enjoy regulation dominating school administrations.

  11. Donna May 4, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    I can’t imagine having to get a background check or fingerprints to volunteer as a parent at school. At our school, mentors – adults who work one-on-one with an assigned child through a special program – must have a background check, but not volunteers.

    I also can’t imagine any scenario where you would need 32,000 people on volunteer lists for any school district. Parents don’t need to be that involved in their children’s education. We have a handful of parents who volunteer regularly and also get random emails throughout the year when a group of volunteers are needed – book fair, track and field meet, field day, art show, etc. No background checks. Just respond via email and then show up at the appointed time.

    Although I know one mother who goes on field trips, I don’t recall that parent volunteers have ever been solicited for any field trip. I know that my child’s teacher has never asked for anyone to accompany her (but she has also had a student teacher most of the year so has an extra pair of hands built in). Which makes me wonder how much of this “volunteering” is really wanted and how much is parents inserting themselves into situations where they are just excess baggage? I’m not sure administrators care all that much about dissuading a bunch of volunteers that they don’t want anyway.

  12. Reziac May 4, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    Someone says:

    “Interestingly when I still had to buzz in I asked why it wasn’t gone yet and they said they can’t disband it, its coded in to the door etc, the safety company have to come in to change it, its all very difficult etc. Sounds not very safe for ‘safety!’”

    As some wise person once said, there are three ways to get things done:

    1) Do it yourself
    2) Hire someone to do it
    3) Forbid your kids to do it

    So leave a few tools lying around and casually mention to the kids that no one has figured out how to fix it, then give ’em an hour alone with the door. It’ll be dismantled in no time.

  13. Tim Hauserman May 4, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    Nice work. You couldn’t have said it better yourself. Perhaps like one of the commenters alluded to, our society has a phobia. A cultural paranoia that the big baddies are around every turn.

  14. Mark Davis May 4, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    “You can’t be too careful”.

    A misguided belief that this statement is beyond dispute is the whole problem, isn’t it?

    When engaging people like this in conversation, perhaps we should start by questioning the validity of this hypothesis that so many people seem to make. If you are “careful” enough that it makes something you want to do more trouble than it is worth, than you are most certainly being too careful.

    There is no such thing as perfect safety; everything we do carries risks. All we can do is try to reduce those risks to acceptable levels, recognizing that doing so bears a cost, and that cost must be weighed against the value it provides, and the value it subtracts from the activity we’re trying to make safe.

  15. Reziac May 4, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    Someone says, “This is a phobia, it is debilitating, it is stopping people from participating in regular life. It’s not healthy.”

    Exactly!! This constant “but what if” paranoia is teaching us to behave like people who have a genuine phobia, like children who haven’t yet outgrown night terrors. It might be within normal limits for a child, but it’s not normal for adults. Yet this is what we’re teaching our children to be — permanent children, forever terrified of the monsters under the bed.

  16. EricS May 4, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    As BL said, if parents have to do this, then ALL school employees must as well. TDSB can’t be hypocrites now. After all, there seems to be more issues with teachers in general taking advantage of children.

  17. Julie C May 4, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    Regarding breathalyzers for school dances, our local high school (and the other high schools in the area) have been doing breathalyzer tests for admission into school dances for years.
    The kids don’t even blink about it.

    The irony is that the kids who really want to be high for a school dance (or the grad night trip) just do drugs instead, so that they pass the test. Where there is a will there is a way …

  18. JP May 4, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    32 thousand volunteers is a sneeze. The Big Smoke (otherwise known as Toronto) now blesses itself as surpassing Chicago in size (if not in style.) That’s an awful lot of schools requiring extra hands on deck.

    The line that caught my eye is this: No volunteer has ever been known to harm a child. Not one. Ever.
    Risk assessment is a gloriously overpaid (in some circles) pastime – in which academic smarts are employed to the fullest extent of the brain power so possessed. Or so it seems.
    What it really means (to some people) is that it just doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn. Stats are only there to twist, or ignore, depending on your agenda.

    I’d like to think that if I were a dependent child today, I would be fully resolved to be absolutely ashamed of my elders.
    (It would have creeped me out large to have discovered much to my horror, that I had somehow gained such status of perceived treasurehood as to be so in need of my “preciousness” safeguarded and protected.)
    Unless of course, I had such delusions of grandeur that I imagined myself the President Himself.

    It does make me chuckle a little though – to think that the helicopter micro-managers themselves would take issue with the rules – rules that require them to thus heave to and submit their privacies to inspection.

    I reserve my final salvo to whomever spoke the bit about “never too safe / can’t be too sure”

    Go talk to any (bright) kid in middle school about how they REALLY feel about the world they’re going to inherit one day – and discover that all the industrialized and bureaucratic security in the world feels to them…like throwing a snowball at an advancing forest fire.
    Interesting: that no new public policies seem to be addressing THAT issue.
    methinks they haven’t figured out yet quite how to value-add it all up. I’m sure they’re working on it, though.

  19. Donna May 4, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

    JP – Based on Toronto school enrollment, 32,000 parent volunteers equals one for every 8-9 children. I wouldn’t call that a sneeze. Unless Toronto is markedly different from every other city in world, the reality is that many schools have almost no volunteers while those in more affluent areas have hundreds.

    And I can’t for the life of me imagine what they all do. Outside of the occasional 1-2 parents who chaperoned field trips, I never remember a parent volunteering at school when I was a student. And if my experience volunteering at the PE track meet last week is typical, too many cooks spoil the food. We had things very under control with the original 8 volunteers, then 10 others showed up to confuse things and another dozen or so parents randomly popped in just to watch apparently. And when the time came to carry things back to the bus, all the excess help magically disappeared.

  20. SKL May 4, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    I don’t actually know if background checks are needed for my kids’ field trips (I’ve never gone on one). I did notice that the “permission slips” for the kids have 2 blank lines (I give ___ permission to attend, signed ____.) Then below that, there will be a half page form for the adult “drivers” to sign. 😛 I wonder what they do if someone comes up with some sort of “problem.”

    Of course the other funny thing is that if my kid is going to hop a ride in a friend’s parents’ minivan, I need to send a car seat, but if they are going on the school bus, they don’t even have access to seat belts….

  21. Reziac May 4, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    Donna says,

    “And I can’t for the life of me imagine what they all do. Outside of the occasional 1-2 parents who chaperoned field trips, I never remember a parent volunteering at school when I was a student.”

    Same here, except there were no parents chaperoning field trips either. One teacher was considered sufficient to keep 30 kids in check. And ya know what? We all got back in one piece. Every time. And we went to some ‘risky’ places, like defunct mining camps.

    Ghod knows what these people would have thought of my high school’s Aviation Science class, in which we got to fly in a single-engine airplane, two at a time, with no one but the instructor (horrors! what if the plane crashed??)

  22. Chuck99 May 4, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    Donna,my kid had about 24 other children in most of his classes. While it probably seemed like there were a lot of parent volunteers, the honest truth is that most of us were only able to do one or two events or field trips a year. That meant they might end up using as many or more parents as there were kids in the class by the end of the year.

  23. sharon May 4, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    Unfortunately this isn’t confined to the TDSB. We live in the KPRDSB ( just outside Toronto), and a mandatory volunteer safety check has always been in place since my kids started school 12 years ago. This has always cost money, I believe it is now between 15-20 dollars a year. However, if your name or birthday matches one of a convicted felon anywhere in the Country, you need to get fingerprinted by the RCMP. This happened to my husband. The system was so backlogged it took almost 6 months to complete. The trip he was volunteering for was long over (he went anyway). Guess what, if he wants to volunteer again the exact same thing will happen. Both he and I no longer volunteer. Stupidity at it’s finest. It’s the same administrators that have now deemed a play structure installed about 14 years ago at the cost of over 16 thousand dollars ( money was raised by the community) to be unsafe. Also swings have been removed for the same reason….. O.k., I’ll stop now….

  24. BL May 4, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    “It’s the same administrators that have now deemed a play structure installed about 14 years ago at the cost of over 16 thousand dollars ( money was raised by the community) to be unsafe. Also swings have been removed for the same reason”

    When I think of the playground at my first elementary school – by the thinking of 21st century “minds” we should have all been killed in accidents within a year. I don’t even remember a serious injury, although bruises and scrapes were common enough.

  25. Lori May 4, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    Our district instituted this insane policy this school year for anyone volunteering 1-on-1 with children. And the volunteer has to PAY for the background check! Utterly ridiculous!

  26. Yocheved May 4, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

    I had to be fingerprinted just to take my own daughter to the zoo with her 5th grade class! Total insanity.

    I can’t wait to move to Israel, where free ranging 3 and 4 year olds are the norm, and parents are normal people.

  27. Donna May 4, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

    Chuck99 – Why exactly do you need 25 parent volunteers per classroom during the course of a school year? That is insane. For generations, kids managed to get educated without any parental involvement (or parapros or aides). I can’t imagine any reason that this generation actually NEEDS all that parental help.

  28. Let Her Eat Dirt May 4, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

    My daughters just signed up for Little League, and I had to fill out this ridiculous form in order to volunteer. They wanted my Social Security number, Driver’s License, and every other piece of identification. (Is it any wonder that identity theft is so easy?) I didn’t fill it all out and told them that the background check folks could come calling if they absolutely needed me.

    This sort of stuff is driven by fear. No one wants to be blamed if something bad happens, even if the steps that they take are solely for show. The real dangers won’t be caught by background checks by random companies, and you end up discouraging good people from taking part in the schools.

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    A dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  29. pentamom May 4, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    Donna, could it be that the 32,000 comes from people having gotten on the list since 1998, and the list never being purged? That seems possible from the way the article is written. That still seems somewhat high, but if they were requiring everyone who ever helped out for a day with a party, chaperoned a field trip once, etc., to be on the list, it could add up.

    Last year, I spent about two hours sitting at a table checking off names and passing out packets to choral directors bringing their kids into our high school for the district choral event. If everyone who did every job like that through the course of the year had to be on the list, and the list was maintained for 15 years, you could get a LOT of people on a list.

    Of course it’s true that you 1) don’t need every parent who shows up to help with something to be on an official “list” and 2) probably don’t need that many parent helpers to do the kinds of things parent helpers now do, if kids were encouraged/trusted to do more on their own, but that’s where the numbers come from.

  30. Warren May 4, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    Grew up in Toronto, and am totally ashamed of this crap. Just like anywhere else, in the near future they will be crying “What happened to all the volunteers?”
    Secondly, the whole mental health thing won’t fly, as medical information is confidential. I do not think they will be able to get past the legality of violating one’s rights on that.

  31. Helen May 4, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    Pennsylvania requires all parent volunteers at charter schools to obtain two clearances (or so we are told). And this doesn’t just apply to field trip chaperones but also to those volunteering on site (and who are never actually alone with any children): those serving refreshments at the Halloween party, those who come in to paint sets for a class play, etc. Even those who are volunteering in capacities where they will have NO contact with children are required to comply (for example, the parents who come in to arrange holiday cookie trays for the teachers.

    The criminal clearance can be completed easily online—IF you have a drivers license—for $10. The child abuse clearance requires applicants to fill out the same form they would use if applying to be foster parents. They must list every address where they’ve ever lived along with the full names and estimated ages of every person they have ever lived with…and then go out and purchase a $10 money order…and then wait several weeks for results. I’m not sure how long these clearances are active for because franky, I’m too depressed to investigate.

  32. mystic_eye May 4, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

    Background checks for volunteers is stupid but at least presumably the adults are giving proper consent and the background check is being done by the proper people (ie police and not paid services like some places).

    Breathalyzers for prom is firstly illegal. Canada doesn’t allow for random drug screening of employees, not even truck drivers which leads to a constant battle with the US. There’s just no way this meets any legal standard in Canada.

    Secondly, the breathalyzers are almost always being done by unqualified untrained private citizens using cheap equipment and the required amount of time between tests is almost never followed.

    Thirdly, kids will find a way as others have stated.

    Fourthly some of the “kids” at prom are of legal age even now that we don’t have grade 13.

    And finally, please do not forget that in addition to these improperly used inaccurate breathylizers we have zero tolerance policies. Yes, of course the administrators will say they will just keep the kids out of prom/the dance and not apply the zero tolerance policy. However, let’s face it, someone is going to overreact. Someone is going to demand or decide to expel kids over it.

  33. gap.runner May 5, 2014 at 1:27 am #

    The only parent volunteers in German schools are the class representatives who are on the parent board. Otherwise parents are not allowed in the classrooms or on field trips. Discipline is very strict, so parents are not required to help the teachers keep classes of 25 to 30 kids in line. The only times parents are allowed on field trips are the class hikes at the beginning and end of the school year. No background checks are required. Starting in 3rd grade, it is only the teacher who takes the class.

    There is no security for getting into schools either. At my son’s school I can simply walk in the unlocked door and go up a flight of stairs to the secretary’s office. I tell the secretary which teacher I wish to see, and she goes to the break room to fetch the teacher.

    There have been a few incidents of school stabbings in Germany over the past 15 years, but the response is to carry on as usual and not create more “safety features” than a maximum security prison.

  34. kaye May 5, 2014 at 3:15 am #

    Don’t you guys see how wonderful this is? A mainstream newspaper is actually coming out AGAINST safety at all costs? In favor of weighing costs and benefits?

    That’s it, I’m moving to Canada. :-)

    Or maybe I had better wait and see what the school board decides first…

  35. Andy May 5, 2014 at 5:00 am #

    @gap.runner Can you describe what you mean by strict discipline? I’m just curious about what kind of things are not allowed there.

    On-topic: I do not remember parents going with us neither. We usually had two teachers for 30 kids, including week long trips (once a year starting with first or second grade). There might have been slightly different teacher-kid ratio for first and second graders, but not by much and definitely no parents.

  36. Nadine May 5, 2014 at 5:05 am #

    Do any of these schools empower their kids. Learn them to have and protect their boundaries? Request personal space? Have programs in place that teaches kids about their personal safety?

    Or am I completely bonkers now

  37. Donna May 5, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    pentamom – I really couldn’t tell based on the article if the 32,000 was current or not.

    My guess is that the number is truly for this years’ potential volunteers only, but the vast majority of them never actually do anything. They put their name on their school’s volunteer list at the beginning of the year with grand hopes of volunteering and then never actually sign up when volunteers are needed. I would also guess that there are not really 32,000 DIFFERENT names as parents who have children in different schools may be on the volunteer list at both.

    Still I think we have volunteer overrun at affluent schools … and probably more than the schools and administration really want. I wonder how many of the “jobs” given are because 25 volunteers show up when only 10 are needed and nobody wants to tell them “no.” And if all these parent volunteers are taking jobs that would otherwise be given to kids, especially at the middle and high school level.

  38. anonymous mom May 5, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    The charter school my son was attending required parents to have a background check before volunteering in the school. I think it was a policy of the larger charter organization, because I know the school administration was really iffy about it. The school had a large Mexican-American population, some of whom were undocumented families, and as an inner-city school it also had a lot of families where one or both parents had a record. The concern–which I think was very warranted–was that parents would be scared off from volunteering because they didn’t want the school either finding out they were undocumented or that they had a felony record. The school was always short on volunteers, so it’s possible their concerns were well-founded.

    I didn’t volunteer. Honestly, I find the pressure to volunteer a bit much. Along with my son who was in school, I had a 3 and 2 year old at home. Going in to volunteer or going on a field trip would require me to find childcare for my other kids. My mom was a pretty involved parent–she’s a teacher, she was always on the PTA, she was a “room mom”–and I still don’t remember her actually being IN the school other than once a year for some craft fair she always worked at. But, it seems like school cutbacks mean that parent volunteer are now taking over what used to be paid positions–lunch aides, classroom aides, crossing guards–at least at the school my son attended.

  39. anonymous mom May 5, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    @Donna, the volunteer overrun may be the case in affluent schools, but at my son’s old charter school, parent volunteers “worked” as office aides, lunch aides, crossing guards, and classroom aides. The school was clearly understaffed, and they relied on parent volunteers to pick up the slack. Personally, I think that’s a terrible system, and it would be far better to fund schools sufficiently so they can pay for actual aides, but I’m guessing it’s not that uncommon.

  40. janey May 5, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    I live in Ontario Canada and I was the one of the first wave of parents years ago to have to get a background check by our local police to volunteer in the school. I had pay for mine albeit some school principals were reimbursing parents for this but our’s didn’t. Yes, it turned off a good many parents and none of them were of any harm to any child; they only enriched the children’s school experience. The kids actually liked the volunteers who came and we in turn enjoyed them !!!

    So far as a breathelyzer test for entry to prom? We may be going that way. Teachers don’t do their jobs screening these little snowflakes and let the ‘elite-meet-to-eat” type kids in drunk. They feed into the social thing and turn their heads the other way. But then the teacher was probably one of them when they were in high school. And in Ontario, most high school age kids aren’t of legal drinking age yet (it’s 19 here)

  41. lollipoplover May 5, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    Volunteering at schools should always be encouraged as a way to get to know your school community. Yet increasingly schools seem to need volunteers for every stupid activity. I do volunteer at my children’s elementary school but have increasingly said no to activities that don’t need volunteers for any logical purpose.

    We had a race for education where they requested volunteers. What was I asked to do? They wanted me to hand out popsicles to the kids who were walking and remind them “No running”. Wait, wasn’t this a race? Yes, but someone could get hurt running. So what do they need popcicles for if no one is even exerting themselves to the point of getting hot? Never again. And counting Box Tops? I’d rather have bees in my hair. Can’t these fundraising jobs go to kids who need practice counting??

    Our school recently added a student advisory council made up of older students to assume leadership roles at the school. THEY are the volunteers. For a K-2nd grade carnival, the older kids ran the games and activities with little assistance needed by the parents. I bought face painting supplies but had several 5th graders very artisticly painting rainbows,paw prints, and spiders on the younger students. Both painters and paintees enjoyed the experience.

  42. janey May 5, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    @Donna …. I hear your frustration but I know class time for kids is valuable. Kids that need help counting could do those ridiculous, mundane jobs. Trust me, I counted milk bags, sorted soup can labels (for the piddly little bit of money we got for thousands) and put stickers on work etc. The teacher was beyond grateful …. but unfortunately that part of volunteering in the school. It isn’t always fun or glamorous. I always felt sorry for working Mom’s as they had little free time in the week to volunteer. I heard from many who just couldn’t and wished they could …. and a background check and the expense wasn’t worth the time for them. :(

  43. BL May 5, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    “They wanted me to hand out popsicles to the kids who were walking and remind them “No running”. Wait, wasn’t this a race? Yes, but someone could get hurt running.”

    (Slams head against wall again and again and again)

  44. Kayla May 5, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    I don’t understand peoples obsession with criminal record checks. CRCs do not equal safety. Many people haven’t been caught with crimes, and just because a person has a criminal record does not mean they are too dangerous to be around children.

  45. Tabatha May 5, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    I live in Pennsylvania and our school district requires all parent volunteers to undergo a full background check. The schools are always begging for more help due to a lack of volunters. My children are aware of that I refuse to undergo such invasive measures to chaperone a field trip or school dance, while unhappy I can’t go on field trips with them they understand how ridiculous the policy is. Worst first thinking is only hurting our kids, not protecting them!

    PS my kids are 13 and 15 legally able to babysit (and my 15 year old can even get a job), but the school feels they must be protected from evil parent volunteers!

  46. pentamom May 5, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    Tabatha, I live in Pennsylvania, too. My son had to get a full background check, including state and federal criminal records and child abuse clearance, to work summer maintenance in the school district. SUMMER maintenance. When there would be no kids around. Cost us $50 and delayed his start date by two weeks. I also know woman who had to go through a background check so she could “supervise” middle schoolers at a public park while they waited for their coach to arrive after school. I guess many states are like that now, but it’s absurd. It’s bad enough to need checks for everyone if you’re actually going to be in the school around the kids and interacting with them, but for working in an empty school or hanging around in a public place with them, it’s beyond insane.

  47. Jill May 5, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    What a laugh! I work for a urban school district as well. We require background checks for paid staff. Yet one principal was found to have molested a child. Another was found to have abandoned a school she started in Florida after bilking parents thousands in tuition funds. And a teacher aide was found to have a record of child molestation in his home country before immigrating to the U.S. All AFTER they had been hired and were working for the district.

    Point is…a background check doesn’t even guarantee the full story on someone. Paid staff MUST submit to such checks which costs a fortune as it is. So why force taxpayers to pay even more for parents who help out only occassionally? It’s insane! And what a way to discourage parental involvement!

  48. gap.runner May 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    @Andy, strict discipline means that the kids have to behave themselves in the classroom, stand and greet the teacher when he/she enters the room (teachers, not students change classes), do their homework, keep their notebooks neat and organized, and know what to expect if they are caught cheating (an automatic fail grade). They are also expected to behave properly in public settings on field trips. I’m not saying that German kids are little robots–far from it. A little bit of joking around is permitted because teachers realize that kids are not mature beings and need a little horseplay.

  49. Red May 5, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    The new requirement for a background check is why, after years of volunteering at various schools, I am doing so no longer.

    My kid’s classroom teacher now constantly complains about a lack of volunteers for both in-classroom support and field trips.

    A begets B.

  50. Donna May 5, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    “but at my son’s old charter school, parent volunteers “worked” as office aides, lunch aides, crossing guards, and classroom aides.”

    Kinda exactly my point. I can’t speak for office aides, but we didn’t have lunch aides or classroom aides when I was in school. We had one teacher in the classroom and one teacher in the lunchroom that rotated. Why do we suddenly need all these aides?

    Main intersections did have county-funded crossing guards, but everything else was done by the safety patrol – upper level elementary students, not parents. Does any elementary school still have a student safety patrol?

  51. John May 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    Extremely eloquently said by the Globe & Mail! I could not have said it better myself so I’ll let that editorial piece to the talking for me.

  52. anonymous mom May 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    @anonymous this time:

    Yes. This “you can’t be too careful”/”anything could happen”/”what if?” thinking is DISORDERED. It is UNHEALTHY. It is irrational and it is debilitating.

    I do think there are a lot of parallels between how we’ve come to think about safety and anxiety disorders. (I have panic disorder and have done a lot of CBT, so I’m very familiar with cognitive distortions and how they impact you.) The problem is, as any therapist dealing with anxiety disorders will tell you, the minute you give in to an irrational thought, you give it more power. If I say to myself, “I’m just not going to drive on the highway, because what if I panic and have a heart attack and die and crash the car and kill the kids?”, I am giving my fear power. I am telling myself that my totally irrational “What if?” is worth listening to. And, I’m making it that much harder to drive on the highway the next time.

    I think the same is true with kids and safety. If you tell yourself, “My 8 year old cannot walk half a mile to school because she could be kidnapped, molested, and murdered by some crazy person,” and so you drive her instead, you are giving that fear power. You are telling yourself, consciously or unconsciously, that your fear is rational and worth acting on. And the more you allow irrational, unsubstantiated fears to determine your actions, the more you entrench those fears. It’s a vicious cycle. And, just like with a diagnosable anxiety disorder, the only way out of that cycle is to counter your fears with what is true, and act on that, no matter how hard it feels.

    I know it’s hard, because we are so inundated with worst-first thinking. It’s hard for me to tell my 10 year old that he can bike half a mile through our neighborhood to visit a friend. There’s a few busy cross streets! A car could hit him! He could get mugged! He could get kidnapped! He could get lost! But, those “What ifs?” are extremely unlikely. The far more likely “What if?” scenario is “What if he biked to his friend’s house, got there safely, and felt great about himself for doing it independently?” You have to replace those catastrophic what-ifs with realistic, positive what-ifs and work off of that. But every time you give into fear–whether you are a person with an anxiety disorder or a parent who is constantly barraged with stories about horrible things that will happen to your kids if you leave them alone for a moment–you are sending yourself the message that your fear is rational and justified and making it harder to make a different choice next time.

  53. Meghan P May 5, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    So they get the background check and what do they do with the information? Many, many people have criminal records and/or issues with mental health. Some of them are parents. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are dangerous to kids. Banning such parents from being involved at their child’s school is only going to divide, separate and isolate certain families from the rest of the community. That’s no way to promote safety.

  54. catherine May 5, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

    My 12th grade daughter was in the school play last week… they wanted each family to volunteer to help in some way with the production. I tried to sign my husband up for concessions because it was a very busy week for me. The school WOULDN’t SCHEDULE HIM because he didn’t have a background check on file. To sell popcorn at a concession stand with 5 other parents in a crowded hallway outside an auditorium of hundreds of people. Because wouldn’t that situation would be a pedophile’s dream?

    So I had to go myself in a week in which I was already out of the house 4 nights of the week. I was pretty perturbed. I know the school has to do this nonsense for insurance purposes… grr.

  55. Andy May 6, 2014 at 4:30 am #

    @catherine Why did you had to go? Could you just say “no I’m working 80 hours that week”?

  56. Jim May 7, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

    To get a background check you have to give a lot of private information. Putting you at risk of identity theft, salking or other abuses. I will not give out my social security number to be misused. I will not give out my fingerprint to be misused.

  57. Samantha May 9, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    I’m in Massachusetts, one of the most overprotective, paternalistic states in the U.S. We’ve had to do CORI’s for years to chaperone field trips (driver’s license and call to local police.)

    Last year the high school was doing “Hour of Code” day, where they were introducing programming at all levels, not just for future computer science majors. I’m a female engineer who has been writing code for years. I’m also involved with scouts, have coached sports, and used to run an after-school science program. Oh yeah, and I know lots of the kids, and tend to be well-liked (kids like some sarcasm.) I think I would have been a great female role model. But….

    My CORI was expired. I was not allowed to volunteer for “Hour of Code” with re-newing my CORI and there wasn’t time.

    Yep. We kept those kids safe from the possibility that I had turned bad in recent years.