New Albany News

Board mulling background checks for volunteers

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As soon as next week, the New Albany-Plain Local school board could require many district volunteers to submit to fingerprinting for background checks.

Michael Sawyers, the district's chief of operations and strategic development, told the board at an Aug. 12 workshop the district needs to update its volunteer policy and include the provision for background checks.

Sawyers said he surveyed eight other school districts and found six of them require background checks on volunteers.

He said the Dublin, Grandview, Newark and Upper Arlington school districts require background checks on volunteers who work with children without a supervising teacher present; the Olentangy Local and Worthington school districts require background checks for all volunteers.

Sawyers said if the board changes the policy, it would have to determine if the district or the volunteer would pay for the background check, which can cost up to $23 per person.

Board member Mark Ryan said background checks on volunteers make sense and he asked how many people it would affect.

Sawyers did not have an estimate and but said he would have one by the Aug. 26 meeting, when the board is expected to vote on the policy changes.

District officials said the policy would include volunteers who go on field trips, who work with students in after-school programs such as Science Olympiad and who do one-on-one tutoring outside a classroom and out of a teacher's view.

Ryan said if the board approves the policy change, the district could pay for the background checks in the first year and request the volunteers pay part of the cost in the future.

"We need to make sure (our children) are safe and secure while being as welcoming as we can be to get volunteers," Ryan said.

He called volunteers a great asset to the district.

Dublin, Grandview and Upper Arlington schools pay for the background checks. Newark, Olentangy Local and Worthington schools require volunteers to pay, Sawyers said.

School board President Laura Kohler agreed the district needs to fingerprint all unsupervised volunteers but, she said, the district should subsidize the program in the first year, in anticipation of increasing the program to include all volunteers in the future.

"Having the district fingerprint all volunteers would not seem to be a bad idea to me," Kohler said. "I see this as a first step and would be willing to consider becoming even more stringent.

"It would buy a lot of peace of mind and avoid any potential problems in the future."

Sawyers said the district also should update its visitors policy.

He said visitors could be required to make arrangements in advance and receive a badge with their name on it when they enter a building. He said visitors also should be required to show photo identification if asked.

The school board's next meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in Mershad Hall at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center For the Arts on Dublin-Granville Road.

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