Citizenship question causing Roaring Fork Schools to consider revamping volunteer vetting process
Roaring Fork Schools might do away with a requirement for volunteers to submit fingerprints for background checks amid concerns about a question regarding citizenship asked by an outside agency.
One requirement of the background check policy is for volunteers to submit to fingerprints and complete a form.
Up until October 2018, volunteers could go to the local police department to have that done. Fingerprints were taken manually and turned over to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for processing, according to the district memo.
Now, the CBI requires fingerprints to be recorded digitally through one of two third-party vendors located in either Glenwood Springs or Aspen.
“In order to make an appointment to submit fingerprints, individuals must answer a series of demographic questions, including one that requires a volunteer to indicate their citizenship status in the United States,” the board memo explains.
Under the previous fingerprint card form there was a checkbox to indicate citizenship status, but it was optional.
Some parent groups, as well as one of the district’s partner organizations, the Valley Settlement Project, are concerned about the district’s current background check policy.
Valley Settlement has operated the Parent Mentor program in the area schools since 2012 to help ensure the success of Latino students and provide support to families.
But any changes made by the school board should not compromise student safety, said Rob Stein, superintendent of schools for the district serving Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
“What’s not in question here is the need to conduct rigorous background checks on volunteers or professionals who work in our schools,” Stein said. “It’s about the process to do that.”
So far this school year, that program has not begun due to concerns related to the vetting process, Stein said.
“Some of our volunteers have said they are afraid to go through a process that feels discriminatory to them,” he said. “Other volunteers who have already cleared the background checks are now standing in solidarity with them and boycotting volunteer activities.”
The school district’s current volunteer vetting policy has been in place since 2007 and has not been updated since then, according to a memo to the Roaring Fork Board of Education.
Some Colorado school districts, including Denver Public Schools, have moved away from requiring fingerprints as part of their volunteer vetting process, partly because of the concerns, Stein said.
“Our community has a certain expectation of scrutiny, and we want to meet that,” he said. “If there’s a different process that doesn’t use fingerprints and avoids these unintended consequences, that’s something the board will be looking at.”
Valley Settlement is also helping the district to research options, and has been talking with other school districts in the state that have similar demographics to the Roaring Fork Schools.
“We, too, want children to be safe, but at the same time we feel it’s important to have parent-friendly policies. We can do both — ensure safety and reduce barriers,” said Alex Sanchez, executive director for the organization.
“We hope to have a conversation with the school board to see how we can reflect today’s needs with a policy that hasn’t changed since 2007.”
Sanchez said all of the vetting systems in use around the state require a background check, and that wouldn’t change.
“School boards do have a choice in how they process individuals in the most parent-friendly way, while still ensuring student safety,” he said.
The board is slated to review the policy at its regular meeting Wednesday. The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. at Bridges High School in Carbondale.
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