How Should Schools Districts Handle Criminal Background Checks and Screening?

Empty ClassroomCriminal background checks for parent volunteers exist to make sure school chaperones are safe – they provide a measure of protection for children as well as the school and the public. All schools have their own procedures for performing criminal background checks on regular volunteers.

Anyone who will routinely spend time with children and teens needs to be verified as safe. But sometimes, especially with today’s tight district budges, situations arise in which judgment calls must be made due to time constraints; in these cases, parents who have not had a criminal records check might be asked to help out. While it may seem unlikely that such a judgment call will actually result in any harm, recent news reports have demonstrated the importance of taking the time to perform a criminal records check on every parent volunteer.

Why Criminal Background Checks Matter

In Seattle recently, a wanted felon who was also a parent of a fourth grader arrived at school hoping to chaperone a field trip. Because he was not a regular volunteer, no criminal records check had been performed; by volunteering at the last minute, he also did not give the school staff enough time to perform a screening.

School officials decided to let him go on the trip. During the course of the day, however, another parent recognized him from a television program about wanted fugitives and called the police. What happened next put him, the children and other adults in danger when he fled from police, who could have chosen to use deadly force to apprehend him.

How Schools can Avoid Situations Like This

In hindsight, a criminal records check would have prevented such a dangerous and, for some, terrifying situation. Sticking to an absolute rule – only parents who have had criminal background checks are allowed around the children – could have saved the school a lot of trouble. But what happens when a chaperone is sick or called away, and you need one more adult to achieve a proper adult-child ratio?

A good backup plan would be to have an “alternate” chaperone – who has already had a criminal records check – ready to go for every field trip, just in case another parent cancels. Another option would be to expand the number of parents who are screened; the more parents on whom criminal background checks are performed, the more on-the-fly volunteers the school will have to call upon.

When parents leave their children at school, they expect them to be safe and well cared for. Performing criminal background checks on adults who spend time with the children is an essential practice for keeping children safe.

[ Photo by: Max Klingensmith, on Flickr, via CC License ]

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