A new Roaring Fork School District policy for vetting in-school volunteers could be open to some building-level interpretation, depending on the situation, the district’s superintendent acknowledged.
But the revised policy is intended to be far more clear as to the extra level of protection that’s necessary whenever a volunteer would be alone with a student or students without a teacher or other district employee present, Superintendent Rob Stein said of the new rules now in effect.
“There could be some after-the-fact room for interpretation,” Stein said of cases where a full background check may or may not be necessary.
“But the policy is pretty clear that if you’re in an unsupervised capacity, you do need to have a background check.”
The Roaring Fork school board last month formally approved the revised volunteer policy after concerns were raised that fingerprint-based background check requirements under the old policy discouraged some immigrant parents from volunteering in their child’s classroom.
That’s because some of the online vendors now used for background checks ask a U.S. citizenship question on their form before an applicant can proceed.
The new policy allows in-classroom, supervised volunteers to simply complete a volunteer agreement form that’s available at each district school in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt and at the District Office in Carbondale.
Beyond that, however, it does require any volunteer who would be unsupervised or present on overnight trips with students to complete a full criminal background check.
That can be done either through fingerprints or a name-based check via an approved vendor.
If a volunteer has already completed a comparable background check through another entity that the school district routinely works with, that would be acceptable, according to the policy provisions.
“There are a handful of organizations that we partner with that require their own vetting, and we don’t want to have to duplicate that,” Stein said. “But we do want the discretion to make sure their check is comparable.”
Stein added in a prepared statement when the policy was approved, “We are grateful to the hard work and leadership of parent volunteers and partner organizations who helped us find a better way to encourage parent engagement while keeping our schools safe.”
The Valley Settlement Project, which run the Parent Mentor Program in area schools, was appreciative of the school district’s quick response to the concern about some parent volunteers being intimidated by the fingerprint-based checks.
“This is going to be an opportunity for more and more parents and families to continue to contribute and continue to donate their talents and time,” Valley Settlement Executive Director Alex Sánchez said.
“This is how school districts should work; it should be the public and community and parents working in collaboration with the school district and school board to make sure that we’re governing and creating the type of culture we all want for our children.”