Roaring Fork board OKs updated school volunteer vetting policy
A new policy for school volunteers that’s pending final approval by the Roaring Fork School District board would allow more flexibility to permit in-classroom visits without a full background check.
However, the policy — approved on first reading by the school board in Carbondale Wednesday night — also tightens the rules for any volunteers who would be working with students in an unsupervised capacity.
And, it specifically outlines the types of previous criminal offenses that would strictly prohibit a person from volunteering in any capacity in the schools. Namely, that would include any crime of violence or sex crime of any sort, according to the new policy.
The policy change — subject to a final reading before the school board in November — comes in response to concerns raised by some parent volunteers in Valley Settlement’s Parent Mentor Program about a citizenship question that is asked when applicants undergo fingerprinting for a federal background check.
The policy addresses that issue by not specifically requiring fingerprinting as the method for obtaining a background check.
“Our biggest concern is about the potential sense of hostility that fingerprinting — and the question about immigration status that’s part of that process — can create on families with diverse immigration statuses,” Sophia Clark, representing Sanctuary Unidos, said at the meeting in favor of the policy change.
“… Families feeling that they can’t participate in the schools is going to create a much-less-safe environment than having all families feeling welcomed and valued,” Clark continued. “The Potential social and economic impacts of that are tremendous.”
The revised policy states: “Any volunteer who will be in schools or associated with any school program must complete a criminal background check prior to working in an unsupervised capacity with students and/or before participating in an overnight field trip. Volunteers who have not passed a criminal background check may not be alone — without a district employee — with students other than their own children.”
The new language is more strict in that it removes a reference to limiting background checks to people volunteering four or more times during a school year. However, it also takes out a reference that’s in the current 12-year-old policy that requires all volunteers to submit fingerprints.
All volunteers who would work in an unsupervised capacity with students are still to be vetted through a criminal background check. But the policy doesn’t specify that process for doing that.
“This allows for flexibility as technologies and procedures evolve, and avoids committing to any particular process that might have undesirable side effects,” according to a staff memo prepared for the school board’s consideration at the Wednesday meeting.
Several volunteers in the Parent Mentor program and district teachers who make use of those volunteers in their classrooms spoke to the benefits of the program. They also urged the board to approve the volunteer policy change to remove the citizenship concern.
“Padres Mentores has brought life to our school in so many ways,” said Jamie Nims, the principal at the charter Two Rivers Community School who also has two children attending Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale, and whose wife works at the school.
“This program is important in supporting students in the classroom,” Nims said. “As a parent, I want my children to have that experience … and I would ask that you lift the restrictions that I think are unnecessary.”
School board members unanimously agreed to the policy change in a 4-0 vote.
“I think this is a great middle-ground we’ve found to keep our kids safe, while allowing for parent volunteers,” board member Jenny Scherer said.
Added board member Shane Larson, “This gives us flexibility to make sure students are safe through some kind of background check. The more volunteers and the more adults we have in our schools, the better the environment overall.”
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Carbondale Middle School has transitioned most of its fifth grade cohort, including students and teachers, to distance learning for the coming week due to a positive COVID-19 test.