District adds screening requirement for some volunteers
The Pickerington Local School District this year will require weekly reading assistants, chaperones and others who have unsupervised contact with students to undergo state and federal background checks.
In July, the Pickerington Board of Education approved the addition of a new regulation to district policy for school volunteers who work with students outside classrooms without teacher or staff supervision.
Now, those volunteers -- identified by the district as Level 2 volunteers -- must have current background checks by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and FBI on file with the Ohio Department of Education.
"It's just an extra step we're doing to ensure the safety of our students and staff," said Jim Sotlar, Pickerington assistant superintendent.
"It's a screening process," he said.
Level 2 volunteers, or those who have unsupervised contact with students, typically include weekly reading assistants who provide tutoring in school hallways outside classrooms, chaperones to overnight field trips and volunteer athletic coaches and advisors.
Since 1996, district policy has maintained that all school volunteers must be a high school graduate, obtain any required ODE certification for their roles in the district, adhere to all district policies and procedures and be "of high moral and ethical character as documented through reference checks."
Sotlar said the new regulation requiring formal background checks isn't in response to any one incident, but an attempt by the school board and district to ensure volunteers who work with students without supervision don't have criminal histories or other issues which could put student and staff safety in question.
"This is for the volunteer that has unsupervised contact with our kids on or off campus," Sotlar said.
Once someone has undergone an FBI background check, Sotlar said, that check is sufficient for the district as it relates to volunteer work in the schools for a five-year period.
Sotlar acknowledged there could be incidents which arise with school volunteers between the time they pass a background check and the time a new one is required.
However, he said the district attempts monitor volunteers' backgrounds on an ongoing basis through the help of the community and area law enforcement agencies.
"There's no foolproof policy for anything," Sotlar said.
"If it comes to our attention that something has occurred within that (five-year) time we can call that person in and talk to them and determine if (he or she) needs to go through another background check."
Prospective school volunteers can complete both background BCI and FBI background checks by submitting fingerprints to the Pickerington Police Department or other certified law enforcement agencies.
The total cost for both checks is $60, and those seeking to volunteer with the district must pay the fees themselves.
The Pickerington Police Department provides those services from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.
Sotlar said the district's human resources department also can facilitate the background check process.
In addition to the new background checks for Level 2 volunteers, the board also this year has established an application form which all school volunteers must complete prior to working with students or staff.
The form requires applicants to identify the school or schools at which they wish to volunteer, as well as provide personal contact information.
It also asks if applicants have ever been investigated for child abuse, if they've been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a crime, if they have any pending felony charges and if their names appear on any state or county sex offender databases.
"We want to make sure we have the right people working with our kids," Sotlar said.
"Our primary focus is the safety of our students and staff."
The district's updated policies and regulations related to school volunteers, as well as the form to apply to volunteer in schools, can be accessed online at pickerington.k12.oh.us.