Roaring Fork Schools to consider volunteer policy revision, look to new background check vendor | PostIndependent.com

Roaring Fork Schools to consider volunteer policy revision, look to new background check vendor

Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education Chairwoman Jen Rupert, center, makes a point during a discussion about the district's volunteer vetting process at Wednesday night's meeting in Carbondale.
John Stroud/Post Independent

Every day without critical parent volunteers in the classroom is an opportunity lost for some students to make important gains in learning, says Glenwood Springs Elementary School Principal Audrey Hazleton.

“There’s no questioning the value of our parent volunteers through the Parent Mentor program, but also the parents who accompany us on field trips work other volunteer positions in the school,” Hazleton said before the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education on Wednesday night in Carbondale.

She was speaking to concerns raised by parents in the Valley Settlement Project’s Parent Mentor program over a U.S. citizenship question that is asked on a digital form for fingerprinting as part of the volunteer vetting process. 

That practice is now being called into question by the school district after the concerns were brought to the board’s attention.

“This is a very serious issue, and I don’t want you to take it lightly,” Hazleton said. “But any delay is just reducing the amount of time that we can work with kids one-on-one and support the teachers in the classroom.”

The school board is looking to revise its policy regarding volunteer background checks, possibly eliminating language that requires fingerprints to be submitted. 

The district is also exploring a vetting system used by Denver Public Schools, called Sterling Volunteers, which utilizes a name-based background check but does not require fingerprints. The district could also work with vendors to not make the citizenship question mandatory.

Those and possibly other options are to be on the table for the next school board meeting Oct. 9 at Bridges High School in Carbondale.

The district policy calling for fingerprints hasn’t been revisited since 2007, but the citizenship question wasn’t an issue for parents until last year when it became mandatory as part of the digital fingerprinting form used by a pair of Colorado Bureau of Investigation vendors.

In the form, applicants are asked if they are a “legal alien,” “illegal alien,” or “pending,” and cannot proceed without answering the question. 

The previous manual fingerprinting system, handled through local police departments, included a citizenship checkbox, but it was optional.

On Wednesday, the board heard from Hispanic parent volunteers in the Parent Mentor program who said they want to help in their children’s classroom, but are reticent to answer the immigration question.  

Audio clip from meeting

A volunteer in the Valley Settlement Project Parent Mentor Program speaks to the program’s benefits before the Roaring Fork District school board Sept. 25; translated from Spanish to English.

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“We provide a bridge to connect that relationship with students and teachers, so children and families gain confidence and learn to navigate the school system,” Magana said. “We do care about the safety of our students, but the immigration status of parents is not relevant to ensuring student safety. We need a background check that’s not intrusive.”

School board member Mary Elizabeth Geiger said she agreed the system needs to be changed.

“The fact that question even pops up … seems completely irrelevant to anything related to safety,” Geiger said. 

Other board members agreed, and asked for a revised policy and vetting process options to be presented. Public comments will be taken at the Oct. 9 meeting.

“It’s important that the community has a chance to speak up, especially if there’s opposition to this,” Superintendent Rob Stein said.

Student and school safety is a top priority, and should not be compromised, he said.

At the same time, the current policy does seem to go against a safe haven resolution passed by the school board three years ago, Stein added.

One provision of that resolution states:

“Our schools will remain safe and supportive spaces for students and community members, free from intimidation, hostility, or violence, including threat of deportation.”

“It feels unsafe for many of our community members to provide this information, and it’s not information that’s necessary for this purpose,” Stein said.

There are pros and cons to both the current vetting system and the Sterling Volunteers process, which does not use fingerprints, according to an outline of the options presented to the board on Wednesday.

Without fingerprints, an additional FBI Criminal Justice Information Services database search cannot be done. Other nationwide criminal searches are, however, done through either process.

Also, while the fingerprinting system check is good for multiple years, the Sterling system requires annual renewal for volunteers.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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