The Baldwin-Whitehall School Board is considering the adoption of a policy that would require substantial background checks for some B-W School District volunteers.
The proposed policy would place district volunteers into two categories—limited contact and substantial contact—with satisfactory, or clear, background checks being required only for the substantial contact volunteers.
Those background checks are an Act 34 Criminal History Report, an Act 151 Child Abuse Clearance Statement and an Act 114 FBI Clearance. Substantial contact volunteers would also be required to renew their Act 34 reports and Act 151 statements if there are significant breaks in their continuous service to the district.
The cost to complete the background checks is about $70, B-W Superintendent Dr. Randal A. Lutz said, and that cost would be the responsibility of the volunteer and/or sponsoring parent-teacher organization or booster group.
A "substantial contact volunteer" would be someone who is "reasonably likely to have direct contact with a student while performing his/her volunteer service without direct supervision by a school district employee," the proposed B-W policy states. "Direct contact time may include, but is not limited to: coaching an athletic team, advising an extracurricular activity, chaperoning an overnight field trip or competition, and/or providing supplemental assistance to a student without direct supervision by a school district employee."
A "limited contact volunteer" would be someone who is "in direct contact or close proximity of a school district employee while performing his/her volunteer service and (where) there is no time when the volunteer is alone with a student or in a secluded, isolated or remote area with a student without a school district employee being present."
Board member Larry Pantuso said that district funds should be considered as a way of paying for those background checks.
"That $70 that it might cost us, I think the payout of a (legal) settlement would pale in comparison," Pantuso said.
Pantuso confirmed that the proposed policy is available online and is asking for public feedback on it before the board approves it or disapproves it.
"I'd be curious to see what the constituency's opinion is of it," he said.
The next B-W Board meeting will be held on March 13.
Fellow board member Martin Michael Schmotzer said that Baldwin-Whitehall's volunteers policy should match that of the nearby West Jefferson School District, which requires only Act 34 and Act 151 clearances for volunteers but for "all volunteers wishing to accompany students in any of the following instances: off campus field trips, off campus overnight trips and participation in any activity with students where no teacher is present regardless of whether the activity is on or off campus."
The West Jefferson Hills policy also states, "Volunteers who participate only in in-school activities such as class parties or a classroom activity with a teacher present physically in the classroom are not required to have clearances." West Jefferson Hills also places the responsibility to pay for clearances on the volunteer.
Also, "New clearances will be required if there is no volunteer activity for one entire school year."
Said Schmotzer, "You don't need to reinvent the wheel. They've (West Jefferson Hills has) done it the best of the 42 school districts (in Allegheny County).
"It has to be black and white. In this day and age, you can't take the chance. You can't take the legal repercussions of a civil lawsuit and a child being hurt. And you can say, 'Well, there's a teacher here, and the volunteer is (only doing so much).' But a child can be hurt in a very short time period. There's no room for error.
"West Jefferson Hills does it the best. I would emphatically push this board to adopt the complete package that they have, and don't play around."
B-W solicitor Ed Lawrence said that board members should submit their proposed changes to the B-W volunteers policy directly to Lutz before the next board meeting.
Opinions? Leave them in the comments section below. You may be helping to further the process.
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