DeKalb Schools Visitor and Volunteer Policy

I believe this proposed policy as written will kill volunteer participation at most schools. What do you think?

DeKalb County School District (DCSD) is concerned with student safety. DCSD also recognizes that high levels of stakeholder involvement and engagement in our schools are vital to student success.

A DCSD team recently began investigating best practices related to volunteer engagement. The team included staff from Public Safety, Transportation, IT, Support Services, Counseling, Social Workers, Family Engagement and School Governance. As part of the investigative process, a survey was sent to over 1,000 Student Councils (aka Principal Advisory Councils) throughout the District to gain their insights and suggestions as well.

The draft policy identifies a distinction between a volunteer (a person who serves as a tutor, mentor, coach, etc. for students) and a visitor (a person who is visiting their own student or who is invited by the principal or designee to participate in a supervised, one-time event such as a career day).

I believe the following requirements will prevent most people from volunteering. Volunteers must:

  1. Complete volunteer registration process
  2. Complete background check
  3. Pay for background check

What are your thoughts? You can comment here and/or comment directly on the eBoard proposed policy.

Descriptor Code: IFCD
Proposed Board Policy Visitors and Volunteers

PROPOSED BOARD POLICY – School Volunteers and Visitors

The DeKalb County Board of Education recognizes the importance of visitors and volunteers who play an important role in supporting, encouraging, and advancing student achievement. Parents and others who wish to support student achievement are encouraged to participate in parent and community engagement activities at approved school or district-sponsored activities.

Volunteers are non-paid persons who provide services at approved school or district-sponsored activities. Persons who, in the course of their service, will come into contact with students who are not their own student and/or who will serve as a tutor, mentor, coach, etc. must complete a district Volunteer Registration process prior to coming into contact with students. This process will include the mandated reporter training per O.C.G.A. §19-7-5 and the associated district fingerprint and background check. The prospective volunteer is responsible for the cost of the fingerprint and background check.

Parents or guardians who periodically come to the school to visit their own student, are identified in the district Student Information System, and have signed in with the main office are welcomed visitors to the school, but they are not considered volunteers.

Visitors may also include parents, guardians or community members who are invited by the principal or designee to participate in a supervised one-time school activity which take place on school property such as career days or field days.

Registered Volunteers and Visitors may never be alone and/or un-supervised by staff. Registered Volunteers and Visitors must at all times remain in areas of the school where they may be observed by staff, e.g. playground, media center, cafeteria, hallway, etc. All student interactions with Visitors and Registered Volunteers must be in an area where the interaction may be easily observed by staff members, e.g. playground, media center, cafeteria, hallway, etc. Staff may never permit students to have unsupervised, un-observable interactions with Visitors or Registered Volunteers.

This policy does not apply to individuals who are working pursuant to a vendor contract with the district to provide services, e.g. plant maintenance, counseling, etc. Such individuals must follow the terms of their company’s vendor contract.

The superintendent or designee reserves the right to prohibit or discontinue any individual or organization from visiting, volunteering or having interactions with students during the school day or during school or district-sponsored activities.

30 responses to “DeKalb Schools Visitor and Volunteer Policy

  1. Why aren’t tutors, mentors, and coaches valued enough by the district to be a staff position?

  2. I wonder how this will affect PTA members. The two years I served on a PTA board, I was in the school at least once a week, and unsupervised for most of that time (because it doesn’t take two people to make copies, type up/print out flyers, etc). Other times it would be an unsupervised group of us setting up for an event. I absolutely understand and respect the intent of this, but the wording makes it sound like a headache for all.

  3. I think its a reasonable policy by the district. Most rec coaches need to be background checked, so being a parent volunteer at the school should require some level of oversight.
    To make it work the process should be very simple, done online (take < 5 minutes) and be affordable ($10 or less).
    Just my 2 cents.

  4. DSW2Contributor

    DCSD needs this.

    There are far too many children in DCSD who are being abused by their parents and guardians. Abusers are in all parts of the county, even Dunwoody. Having a policy that parents “may never be alone and/or un-supervised by staff” ensures that abused children have one place in their lives, their school, where they are safe.

    Making volunteers pay for the cost of the fingerprint and background check will be a hardship for many volunteers, such as grandparents on fixed incomes….. so this will become yet another expense that school house personnel end up paying for out of their own pockets.

  5. Sarah, to your point, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    LaptopBoy, I’ve been a rec coach in various sports every year for the last 10 years. I’ve never heard of any church group or club organization requiring background checks of their rec coaches. I’m not aware of a any incidents that would have been prevented from a background check.

    Is this being overprotective? Can I let my high school daughter go to dinner with her friends even though the waiters don’t have background checks? Can I let my middle school boys go to the park or the movies anymore?

  6. Bill Florence

    I can see this policy having merit if a volunteer is in an unsupervised, 1.1 situation with a student, such as being a mentor or a tutor. Even then, there are easier, less invasive solutions, such as designating a supervised, video monitored or other public place for such activities to occur. Otherwise, this policy is FAR too broad. Will all PTA or PTO volunteers be forced to comply? What about volunteers at a school book fair, school carnival, front office or volunteers who serve in the lunchroom? Volunteers at athletic events or who may be staffing a concessions booth? What about all grandparents? What is the approval process once a background check is conducted, how long will the approval process take, what is the approval criteria (is a DUI arrest last month less important than a misdemeanor assault charge 20 years ago?), who has ultimate approval and is their an appeals process if not approved? Keeping children safe is a non-negotiable point. But this policy is over-broad, ill-defined and potentially chilling for volunteerism in our schools.

  7. Erring on the side of caution, I think it’s reasonable to require background checks on volunteers who have regularly scheduled interactions with students, but not for any volunteer “who comes in contact with a student.” If you walk in a school building, you’re likely to have “contact” with a student, so the wording is too limiting, in my opinion. Requiring self-paid background checks for which you have to go to Stone Mountain and wait and sometimes wait some more will definitely deter parents from volunteering, and school administrators will become frustrated trying to make sure all volunteers are constantly supervised, as Sarah said, during set-up/clean-up for events. How can we get this wording to be changed?

  8. I left this feedback on their site:

    This will kill all involvement from low income parents, which is a huge percentage of parents, as indicated by the large number of students receiving free lunches. What a slap in the face for those parents!! It’s bad enough when you get to middle school and are told parents aren’t needed any more, and now to be treated as if we are criminals? Please list the problems that this process will solve – I am unaware that this is a problem anywhere.

    I volunteered for 15 years as a room parent, teaching art projects, helping with prom planning, supervising homecoming decorations, planning and executing large special themed events, painting classrooms, planting and other landscaping, and innumerable other tasks.

    As an involved parent, I find this absurdly insulting, and I would not pay to have a background check. I was insulted enough when you refused to accept my checks and demanded that I purchase money orders to pay for things.

    Trust me, you will run off all the parents who are still hanging around. You have truly lost your minds.

  9. I was on the carpool committee for my elementary school for years. I opened the car door for all the students gettin dropped off … that’s a lot of students the carpool committee came into contact with every day. Background checks were not a requirement for this committee… or any committee. I’m pretty sure background checks will kill committees like this that exist to help the school.

  10. Adrienne Duncan

    The following is my own experience and is not a commentary on anyone else’s POV.

    In public elementary school, I’m required to view a slideshow and print out a certificate.
    At my daughters’ Catholic school, I’m required to spend an entire afternoon in a multimedia presentation, sign in, THEN get background checked (no fingerprints) before I can volunteer in any forum, including handing out cups of ketchup at lunchtime to kindergartners or sell pencils from the school store. (Which is what most of my volunteering looks like.) Background checks are reviewed by both civil and ecclesiastical authorities.
    In Girl Scouts, it’s a criminal background check by agency selected by GSUSA – paid for with registration. No fingerprints.
    For MMD’s junior cheer squad at the Benz, chaperones and security dads require a criminal background check and fingerprinting by an agency selected by the Falcons. Getting the girls on the field requires a halftime field credential. Kids bags (smaller versions of the pro cheerleaders’ gear bags) require a tag. Not a chaperone this year so no one cares if I bring my daughter to practice and hang out w/ the other parents.
    To lease the Dunwoody HS auditorium for the DHA Candidate Forum, I’m headed down to the central office this Friday for a background check and fingerprints, then I will be issued a badge that gets uploaded to the lease application system.
    To be a squad mom for Colts cheerleading – nada. (Don’t know about coaches, etc – I’m not a coach. 🙂 )
    Boy Scouts volunteer – Training session @ the BSA office next to the Braves stadium. Another full afternoon plus whatever paperwork. This is PHD’s territory.

    And I consider myself a pretty typical Dunwoody mom.

    IMHO, it’s not about the degree of the background check but the repetition. It’s the same info/fingerprints/anal probe over and over again. And since my background check has nothing on it, it’s the same report over and over again. Is there a happy medium where a single universal background check could be performed on an annual (semi-annual?) basis and have it available for whoever needs to check it? But I don’t plan on objecting any time soon because every time some nutbag goes on a rampage I think about my childrens’ safety like every other parent out there.

  11. I agree that this policy will make volunteering impossible for the majority of parents. They will have to go to the Memorial Drive office for their fingerprinting and many have no transportation. Most parent volunteers make a huge sacrifice of their time and time off work to be at the school. Many have a neighbor drive them even for parent conferences. Parent volunteers make teaching and planning a little less burdensome for teachers by making copies and helping with projects. Others helpmin the cafeteria or Iin Media Centers. Schools with a high level of parent level have proven to be more effective and result in higher test scores even when the volunteers are not tutoring or mentoring. Blanket policies have a negative effect on moral and building atmosphere. Let schools determine and write their own procedures reflecting their needs and community.

  12. Once again proving that our school system is too big! The teachers, staff , and administration know parents in the community. I have a DCSS badge as a coach for Run Club, completely appropriate expectation. However, needing one to serve as a Lunch Buddy, copier, or Medua Helper during school hours is ridiculous. I served as PTA President and had to pop into school on several occasions, I think DeKalb means to say thank you, not let’s make this harder! I’m all for student safety, but they are starting in the wrong place. How about we don’t hold Election Polls during school hours! Even better, how about we not place teachers that had previous complaints at our school or get rid of substitutes/teachers parents reported as verbally abusive.

  13. I understand the district’s intentions, but this sounds like a baby/bathwater scenario.
    My kids’ elementary theme school required a specific number of volunteer hours. The population served was mostly working class, and I saw some parents make sacrifices to fulfill that volunteer obligation just to make sure their kids were able to stay in the school. My son’s middle school is just incredible, with parents running the book fair, the “supply store,” various book clubs, as well as the Maker’s Club. This school’s award-winning library is one of the best in the nation, and it’s librarian would be the 1st to tell you how heavily she relies on parent volunteers. I honestly don’t know how parents will react to being asked to pay for their own background checks, but I do know this shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all proposition. Each school should be able to make that determination for itself.

  14. Junior Varsity

    I don’t mind the background check – they’re relatively painless. Fingerprinting is a PITA wherever it’s done. Paying extra for the privilege of volunteering – nope.

  15. I am opposed to this policy as written. Proposed policy IFCD desperately needs an associated Regulation to spell out the details necessary for fair and effective implementation. DCSD organization(s) that will be responsible for the many facets of this policy must be defined. Please send this policy back for re-work.

    1 – Data Security – What safeguards will DCSD use to prevent unauthorized disclosure of School Volunteer fingerprint and criminal background check data? What DCSD organizations are responsible for this?

    2 – How will the list of “prohibited” or “discontinued” volunteers be handled at the school level? Will it be protected, and if so, how? Will it be posted publicly? Who on the school staff will have responsibility for ensuring that these individuals cannot volunteer?

    3 – Threshold for Approved Criminal Background Check – What results of a School Volunteer criminal background check will be considered acceptable by DCSD, and which will not?

    4 – The last paragraph states that the Superintendent or designee reserves the right to prohibit or discontinue any individual or organization from visiting, volunteering, or having any interactions with students during the school day or during district sponsored events or activities.

    Are there safeguards to ensure that volunteers are not “prohibited” or “discontinued” as retribution for speaking out against District policy?

    Will persons “prohibited” or “discontinued” by the Superintendent or designee be notified of this status? Will there be an appeal process?

    5 – How will this policy be implemented in schools that have Parent Centers? DCSD touts its Parent Centers, yet this proposed policy doesn’t even mention how visitors to Parent Centers will be monitored. This omission should be fixed.

    6 – Has the District designated funds to pay for criminal background checks for parents who cannot afford it? Otherwise, schools which desperately need volunteers may be negatively affected just because parents or community members cannot afford the fees.

    7 – What efforts has the District made or planned for schools with a high concentration of non-English speaking parents, or those who may be wary of this significant interaction with law enforcement? It appears that this proposed policy could effectively prevent this constituency from having a strong volunteer presence. That doesn’t sound like a good idea.

    8 – How is this proposed policy compatible with the trend in DCSD to provide “wraparound services at schools”? Wraparound services increase, with no restrictions, people coming into the school building while policy IFCD adds barriers to those who come in to the school building wanting to help.

    In addition, the Fulton Schools’ IFCD School Volunteer policy doesn’t require fingerprinting or background checks. Cobb County Schools doesn’t have an IFCD policy, but instead has policy KM on School Visitors. Gwinnett Schools also have the KM policy.

  16. I’m not opposed to the idea for regular, recurring volunteer activities. I too was required to do this as an elementary school run club coach, but I have weekly interactions with students, even off campus while we run. If this is the new policy, the process needs to be greatly simplified and made cheaper, completing the background check online would be ideal. I had to do this when coaching a girls church basketball team, Murphey Candler Girls Softball Association requires background checks for not only coaches, but dugout volunteers too, that’s new this Fall. These organizations have a very simple process in place, and the volunteer doesn’t have to foot the bill. Unfortunately, the reality is this is the world we now live in. I get it DCSD, but retool the policy wording and process.

  17. Could you please clarify something about the proposed volunteer policy? We aren’t sure about where the line is drawn for volunteers. It defines volunteers as:

    Volunteers are non-paid persons who provide services at approved school or district-sponsored activities.

    On the other hand, it also says,

    Visitors may also include parents, guardians or community members who are invited by the principal or designee to participate in a supervised one-time school activity which takes place on school property such as career days or field days.

    As you know, most school volunteers fall somewhere in between “one-time” activities and being there every day. In addition, many activities are not school or district sponsored but are sponsored by clubs, PTSA, or sports.

    How do we interpret this policy update for those situations – fairly frequent volunteers and non-school sponsored activities?

  18. I’m using this blog as a repository of notes. Somebody emailed me these questions. Good questions. I don’t have the answers.

    1. Does the volunteer policy include those that may work for a school foundation. We tutor every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. One of the requirements of this Foundation to be a tutor is to go to the local police dept and have a background check. Would this policy require us to go to DCSD and have a background check and fingerprints?

    2. What is the cost per person of the proposed requirement?

    3. Will DCSD make money off this and if so, how will that money be used?

    4. Do all volunteers have to go to DCSD for the checks or can they be checked elsewhere?

    5. Will additional staff have to be hired to handle this?

    6. Will a parent volunteer that has kids at 2, 3, 4 schools and involved in multiple clubs/sports/volunteer activities be required to do one at each school, one for each volunteer activity or just one for all of them? How will this info be stored?

    7. If the info is kept online, what steps are being taken to make sure the personal data is secure?

    8. How will the policy be enforced?

    9. What is the plan to increase parent engagement among those that can’t afford this background check and fingerprinting? Will some schools have to use principal discretionary, Title 1, etc funds to pay for these in order to get volunteers?

    10. Will volunteers be required to do this each year?

  19. I scanned the policy that was drafted. Please tell me they are going to consider some feedback. We need a good policy for volunteering, but it should not involve background checks and fingerprints for most volunteering positions. We need to state how volunteers are handling children (never alone with them, if mentoring the door stays open, etc) but this policy is too vague, too far reaching.

    Even I would stop volunteering if this is the requirement, and I tend to volunteer a lot. And I work in another public school! I have no fears of the background check, but to pay to get it done, so that I can help on the PTA, or work at several events, is absolutely ridiculous. It will widen the gap so much further it’s not even fair because of the difficulty of going through this process. We already work so hard to figure out how to include all types of families. Paying for prints and background checks will make many parents and community members decide not to help. And regardless of what people may think about undocumented parents/students, they are valuable members of our schools and those parents will be essentially banned from helping because they cannot even go through the process.

    The policy needs to be created/edited. But it went WAY too far. We need to ensure that NO CHILD is ever alone with a volunteer if there are no methods of monitoring. Period. If they are being mentored, doors stay open. If they are walking in the hall, fine. But there are ways to prevent crimes and monitor this type of thing.

    I’m curious about the data they have that makes them feel background checks and fingerprinting is needed. That’s always my first thought when extreme policies are created anywhere. Dekalb needs to take some time to identify specific roles in the school (volunteer) that would need background. Not just some vague statement.

  20. escapee from dekalb

    I am still wrapping my head around the over 1000 student advisory councils? Is that correct?

  21. escapee from dekalb

    Now I have decided that nother family member must need a new job to oversee this mess. It also proves that many of these folks are far removed from that actual parent power it takes to make things happen at the local school. The events are always looking for helpers, and this would make that impossible.

  22. Tongue in cheek

    This is on a different subject. I want to know how the county can justify a school in the district that has Two gym teachers. One is for health the other for PE. Yet, there are currently only 120 students in this school who take these two courses. In addition, both of these teachers have three planning periods in the day. Is there not any over-sight that could enable the county to correct this waste?

  23. How does this apply to invited guests? Say from a “corporate partner”?

    What about other ID? I now that is contentious on this forum and at this time but anyone holding a GWCL or Global Entry has had a background check and has been fingerprinted. Probably not as the “money statement” is:

    “The superintendent or designee reserves the right to prohibit or discontinue any individual or organization from visiting, volunteering or having interactions with students during the school day or during school or district-sponsored activities.”

    This basically allows Central Control to ban anyone or any group for any reason, at any time, on or off campus, without justification or review. But it is *their* school system.

  24. Amy Parker – I agree 100%. All committed, involved, caring volunteers are about to be run out of town with this additional layer of bureaucratic biz. Poor decision-making. Yes, I left a comment

  25. ElectSomeoneNew

    Hey Stan – Now that you’ve gotten parents up in arms, which seems to be your modus operandi, what is your plan to actually do something regarding this? Or are you once again leaving it up to the parents to accomplish anything (see Lakeside school website). Why are you on the board if you just pass along the message and sit back?

  26. Up in arms about the volunteer policy?

  27. I think Ken Thompson’s point about the Superintendent being able to exclude anyone he wishes, with no criteria or appeal process, is a grave concern. Shouldn’t the BOE require some sort of oversight or monitoring as to how this power is used?

    I want our schools to be safe. But this policy sounds like a whole lot of expense and window dressing that will primarily keep good folks out of the schools.

    Also, think about how well our HCM uses background checks to make sure that DCSD employees are “safe” to be around our students. There have been several well publicized cases where parents did a simple Google search to find very questionable information about a teacher who had been cleared by HCM.

    If HCM can’t manage background checks on 6000 or so employees, what makes us think that this process will be any more effective when applied to the parents of the more than 100,000 students plus community volunteers who have no students in the system?

  28. Dunwoody Diva

    This policy seems to be Dekalb’s way of covering themselves if anything unfortunate happens.
    It has nothing to do with protecting the children/schools and everything to do with protecting themselves with lawsuits and bad publicity when an issue arises.
    I fully agree with Ken Thompson, it is THEIR school system.
    Let’s go independent school district for North Dekalb:)

  29. I’ll work with legal on integrating this input and getting answers to all of these questions. I expect the policy to change with so much input.

  30. Stop the press: Proposed policy ON HOLD for now
    Stan, I received the following message this morning from the DCSD legal officer …
    Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback on the proposed Visitor and Volunteer policy. Due to the concerns expressed by our stakeholders, the policy is being held for further review and revision. Your feedback will be considered during the revision process.

    Have a wonderful day!

    Best regards,

    Marissa M. Key
    Executive Legal Officer
    Office of Legal Affairs
    DeKalb County School District
    Administrative & Instructional Complex
    1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd.
    Stone Mountain, GA 30083
    Phone: 678-676-0105