Background Checks for School Volunteers -- Necessary or Not?
A school district wouldn’t think of hiring an employee to work in its schools without first conducting a background check on the individual. In fact, most state have made this practice a statutory requirement making it highly unlikely that any organization that hires workers with access to children will not require screening their employees. When it comes to protecting children and reducing organizational liability, background checks are a most basic first step.
So why would this practice be any different with school volunteers? Many would argue it shouldn’t be. Depending on the role of the volunteers and the level of supervision they will have, many believe school volunteers should be subject to the same screening criteria as any other school worker. These criteria are generally formed by the position or role of the individual and the level of unsupervised access the worker will have to the schoolchildren.
While many private and public schools have implemented strict background screening policies for school volunteers, others argue that background checks on school volunteers will reduce much-needed volunteer involvement in the schools. Privacy is another concern as some would-be volunteers fear having details of their personal history revealed.
School districts including Seattle Public Schools and Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, TX have a practice of screening all volunteers who will spend time on a school campus interacting with students.
Who is Responsible for the Actions of School Volunteers? It is widely known and accepted that employers are generally responsible for the actions of employees on the job. When we look at building a background screening program for private school employers, we tend to take the stance that whether a volunteer or a hired employee, the school itself is likely to be held responsible if a child is placed in danger. Thus, it makes sense to have some sort of screening program in place. Without it, the school risks even greater liabilities for neglecting to take what many courts consider to be a reasonable-care measure.
That said, schools must be sure to use caution when establishing the criteria by which background checks will be used to accept volunteer applicants. It is unlikely that a red line approach where any applicant with any type of criminal record is denied the opportunity to volunteer. Instead, both the type of background check performed and the criteria by which the report is assessed need to match the type of volunteer role the individual will have.
Ask yourself, will the volunteer be alone with children in the classroom? Will the volunteer have unsupervised access to school property? Will the volunteer be responsible for transporting students in a vehicle? These and other questions are important to think about and can be used to build an effective volunteer background check program.