New Visitor and Volunteer Policy

DeKalb Schools administration is coming back again with another revision to the Visitor and Volunteer Policy. The first read was in March. This version has different implications.

I remain concerned about the implications of this policy. It might have the unintended consequence of making it cumbersome, or even, prohibitive for parents to volunteer at their child’s school.

There seem to be some inconsistencies too. For example: Level 1 volunteers are supervised and might perform activities like grounds maintenance or repairs. The new policy requires background checks for Level 1 volunteers. Let’s say a parent attends their daughter’s volleyball game – no background check required. But, if they stay after the game and help clean up the gym, suddenly they are a Level 1 volunteer that needs a background check?

Mom’s bringing and setting up a team meal before a game – they need a background check? We all want to keep children safe but does this policy accomplish that or does it just create more problems?

Let me know your thoughts about the new policy proposed by the administration or join the conversation on Facebook.

Amendment to the Bylaws and Policies: Board Policy IFCD, Visitor and Volunteer Policy

PROPOSED ADMINISTRATIVE REGULATION Descriptor Code: IFCD-R
VOLUNTEERS

Volunteers are a valued part of the DeKalb County School District and contribute to overall student academic achievement, school climate and culture. The following regulation defines volunteer, outlines volunteer levels, and provides volunteer expectations to promote student safety.

Definitions

Volunteers are non-paid persons authorized to perform volunteer services at approved school or district-sponsored activities. All volunteers must complete, the volunteer registration process which includes submission of the Volunteer Application and Release Form. Volunteers who will come into direct contact with students who are not their own must also complete mandated reporter training per O.C.G.A. § 19-7-5 prior to participating in any volunteer activities. The school must maintain documentation that the volunteer has completed the Volunteer Application and Release Form, mandated reporter training and any other required training. The documents will be maintained at the school for the current academic year.

Volunteers will be issued volunteer badges, which must be displayed at all times while on school property. School volunteers must sign-in and out in the school office and obtain a visitor badge in accordance with policy KM – Visitors to School and school procedures.

The District recognizes the following three levels of volunteers:

Level 1
Level 1 volunteers are non-district personnel who engage in supervised volunteer activity but will have no interaction with students, such as volunteers working on playground construction, assisting with facilities maintenance when school is not in session. Level 1 volunteers do not require criminal background checks. Prior to service, Level 1 volunteers will be required to sign a Volunteer Application and Release Form, which will be kept on file at the school. Registered sex offenders will not be allowed to volunteer.

Level 2
Level 2 volunteers are non-district personnel who will have supervised interaction with students such as school day field trip, chaperones or assisting a teacher. Prior to service, Level 2 1 volunteers are required to submit a Volunteer Application and Release Form and Criminal History Release Form, and GBI criminal background check. Registered sex offenders will not be allowed to volunteer complete a Level 1 background check. The check will include but is not limited to a national criminal data base search and sex offender’s registries.

Level 3 2
Level 3 2 volunteers must be approved by the Department of Public Safety and the principal of the school prior to participating in activities involving direct, unsupervised interaction with students. Examples of Level 3 2 volunteers include chaperones on overnight field trips or any other volunteers who will have unsupervised interaction with students. Level 3 2 volunteers shall be fingerprinted by the district and have GBI/FBI criminal background checks on file prior to volunteer services. This background check requires a fee and must be conducted by the Department of Public Safety. Registered sex offenders will not be allowed to volunteer.

Exceptions
This policy does not apply to individuals who are working pursuant to a vendor contract with the district to provide services. Such individuals must follow the terms of their company’s vendor agreement with the district.

Expectations of Volunteers
Volunteers must adhere to the same guidelines set forth for employees and should not engage in inappropriate communication and/or contact with students at any time.

In accordance with OCGA 19-7-5(c) (1), volunteers are considered mandated reporters in cases of suspected abuse. Reports of suspected abuse should be made to the school administrator or their designee.

Disqualification of Volunteers
Parents/guardians who are excluded from volunteer activities may attend public events at the school such as Parent Teacher Association meetings and student activities directly related to their student. See Board Policy KM: Visitors to Schools

Access to Student Information
School volunteers shall not have access to student information, including Infinite Campus, without express written consent from the parents/legal guardians of the students.


FOLLOW UP – Q&A

Linda Frazer and Marissa Key are the authors of this policy. This is the Q&A between us

Question: Level 1 Background Check isn’t defined. Nor are the costs associated with obtaining the background check.

Answer from Linda and Marrissa: Since March 2019, the district researched the needs and engaged in the RFP process to identify a vendor to support this proposed volunteer policy and supporting regulation. The selected vendor will be brought forward for approval at the December 9th BOE meeting. The selected vendor will provide Level 1 background checks using the national criminal database and sex offender’s registries. There is a cost associated with the Level 1 background check, but the district has set aside funds to defray the cost.

Question: If I’m reading this right, Level 1 volunteers like “assisting with facilities maintenance” will require a background check. That seems like a prohibitive barrier for many volunteers which are in dire need at our schools. That is to say, anybody can show up for a volleyball game. But, if they pick up a broom and start sweeping the floor, they’ll need a background check.

Answer from Linda and Marrissa: There are two types of volunteers, supervised and unsupervised. Level 1 volunteers are non-district personnel who engage in supervised volunteer activity. These volunteers will complete a Level 1 background check. Level 2 volunteers participate in activities involving direct, unsupervised interaction with students. Level 2 volunteers will be fingerprinted by the district and have GBI/FBI criminal background checks on file prior to volunteer services. This background check requires a fee and must be conducted by the Department of Public Safety. We value all people who want to help and support our DCSD schools. The safety of students and staff members remains our top priority.

25 responses to “New Visitor and Volunteer Policy

  1. Ugh. I volunteer several times a week at my younger kids public elementary and also at my older kids private school. For the private, they pay for the background check and it’s done every 3 years. I’m
    Not a fan of paying for my own background check for the public elementary. I would hope my background from the private school is sufficient. I’m sure there are others in similar situations..What about all
    The volunteers who are police, fire, airline employees , military who have passed checks, surely they too can use this instead of submitting to more checks. I see this as a way of schools losing valuable volunteers. What about the parents who simply can’t afford to submit to a check and yet they volunteer their valuable time? Has there been incidents that are causing concern that the administration wants to implement this?

  2. This policy will surely negatively affect Theme Schools where parental volunteerism is required.

  3. Hello A. Turner. Can you give me a few examples of the types of volunteers that this will affect and why? I agree with you and have my own thoughts. I just want to hear more about what you have to say.

  4. Stan, could the proposed policy be required based on a link between school systems and the federal CCDBG requirement for background checks or perhaps aimed at mirroring that portion of the law?

  5. What’s the federal CCDBG requirement for background checks?

  6. Requires all child care providers that receive any child care development block grant (CCDBG) money to perform background checks on their employees and volunteers if they are in contact with students. If schools are indeed eligible for these funds that’s likely where it stems from.

  7. Melissa Schafstall

    Do they have a plan to implement this? For example, will all parents who think they might volunteer that year sign-up, etc for a background check at the beginning of the year, like maybe during open house? As a parent, I often hear about volunteer opportunities as they come up during the year. Obviously, I won’t be able to help at an event coming up next week if I don’t already have a background check on file. As in the example you gave, parents won’t be able to help out after the game if this isn’t on file. So it seems to me like last-minute volunteering will be out. In this same situation, even if parents offer to help and they do have checks on file, how will that be monitored? Will an administrator have to carry a list of approved parents to all events? It sounds like a logistical nightmare.

  8. Obviously, the schools that really need parents to act as volunteers so that they are involved at their children so schools will be negatively affected. Those that have plenty of parent volunteers all the time will continue to have parent involvement. The harder you make it for working parents and undocumented parents to be involved, the fewer the number of parents that will make an effort to be present in their children’s schools. Parent involvement is a key factor in a school’s success. Why make it so hard?
    I also agree that the new wording places a great administrative burden on already the school staff to do all the checking and verifying.

  9. Ann, I don’t see where the school child care development block grant (CCDBG) money. I also don’t see any other school district in Georgia passing volunteer policies like this.

  10. Sylvia Richardson

    This is bureaucracy looking for a problem! Principals and staff don’t need this. Trust the professionals at each school to handle volunteering.

  11. Many of the theme schools require parent volunteer hours for students to remain in good standing at the school. This is a mandate for these parents from the school/district. These volunteer hours can come from helping with school programs like concerts or honors day, band and/sports parents helping set up or feed students before and after games, working in the school parent room where teachers have placed various tasks they would like parents to help them complete (cut, staple, color things for class), or donating materials to the school (no student contact, but only a maximum of half of required hours can come from donations at most of these schools).

    I believe DCSD charges $45 for background checks for employees. I am unsure if there is or will be a different cost for volunteers. The state DoE guidelines only require volunteer background checks if the volunteer will have unsupervised time with students or going on overnight field trips. Please note that GaDoE does NOT count parents as these general volunteers, but as parents who are volunteering (and do NOT require a background check). Forcing parents to pay for a background check to maintain mandatory volunteer hours sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen and we all know how poorly DCSD handles lawsuits when they are clearly wrong.

  12. Hi Stan,

    There’s an aspect of this policy which fails to recognize the rights of the public to generally access public school facilities. Yes, reasonable rules can be applied to school grounds, however I believe this policy could be construed to be so restrictive as to restrict beyond reasonableness and thus preventing access to the public. The intention of “volunteerism” could be construed as freedom of expression, a constitutionally protected right, and the requirement to be background checked to access a public institution for said purpose could also be interpreted as a restriction of that right.

    Also, does this same hold true for volunteers under the age of 18?

    And as they seem to cite OCGA 19-7-5 Mandatory Reporter law as the premise for this rule change, volunteers are only called out in the context of:

    “(5) “Child service organization personnel” means persons employed by or volunteering at a business or an organization, whether public, private, for profit, not for profit, or voluntary, that provides care, treatment, education, training, supervision, coaching, counseling, recreational programs, or shelter to children.”

    The district should amend their policy to only apply in these types of volunteer capacities. A volunteer planting shrubs on the grounds or wheeling around piles of mulch or working with the PTA on a festival day should not require the level of checks and training that district is trying to make mandatory.

    The policy is fraught with so many issues which you’ve identified, and dekalb just lost a very costly legal issue on a different issue, i’d hate to see them go down this pathway again and lose an even bigger case.

  13. Adrienne Duncan

    Once again I’m going to guess that no one consulted DCSS police on this.
    Because all ID badges and fingerprints and background checks go through that office. In one location. Off Memorial Drive. Open only when school is in session. Cash only.
    They’re all great people but that office is NOT set up to handle potentially hundreds (thousands?) of additional checks and badges for volunteers.
    You have to put as much thought into booths-on-the-ground implementation as much as the rules and regs before rolling this out.

  14. Specifically Wynbrooke, but this would be applicable to all theme schools, parents are REQUIRED to volunteer 16 hours each school year as a stipulation of attendance. We MUST find balance between the law and public funded schools and their volunteerism. How can we as a district trying to uphold the law further tax (via self funding background checks)its parental base that’s merely trying to provide additional rigor via theme schools? Not to mention how does this parallel with the already rising numbers associated with free and reduced lunch for the district as a whole not to mention specific schools? Just shameful. We MUST WORK to find a better.

  15. My questions with these things always are: 1) what problem are we fixing or are we anticipating a problem? 2) if there is a problem, is it at one school or across the county? 3) Have other school districts like ours implemented this exact policy, and, if so, what happened? (Did volunteers go down? Child abuse go down?)

    My sense is this may be cover for a possible lawsuit that might happen in the future.

    I would like to see the data and research that supports the policy changes and have the County be candid with why they are proposing the changes.

  16. A majority of the adults at school are vendors and visitors (except for the employees) and not volunteers. Why bother background checking one of our most valuable resources?

    Who will this be enforced? Who is going to pay for the checks? This policy leaves me with a lot of questions.

  17. Ann Rosenthal

    Stan, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just providing a thought of where it might have come from especially if you’re not seeing it in other systems. That being said, I can see both the positives and the obstacles as have already been mentioned.

  18. For comparison purposes:

    APS pays for their background checks: https://www.atlantapublicschools.us/Page/55811

    Fulton requires volunteers to complete online volunteer registration – seems like a (free) basic background check based on the info asked – every 2 years and complete child abuse reporting protocol training:
    https://www.fultonschools.org/Page/3003

    Clayton has no background checks for level 1, free for level 2, and $45 for level 3:
    https://www.clayton.k12.ga.us/common/pages/UserFile.aspx?fileId=3894438

    Union County requires volunteers to pay:
    http://www.ucschools.org/parents/volunteer_program

    Breman City doesn’t state it clearly, but it seems they may have volunteers pay:
    https://www.bremencs.com/volunteer-opportunities/

  19. Considering how diverse and large our school population is this is a probably a good idea in protecting kids. Its unfortunate but in today’s age what else can you do. There must be a reason this policy is being implemented potentially due to volunteers abusing their power and school district wanting to eliminate potential lawsuits and
    students being impacted.

    My suggestion make the back ground check part of the enrollment process at the beginning of the school year.

    FYI: Corporations conduct back grounds checks on visiting clients meeting in sensitive areas that companies are trying to protect as well.

  20. Stan,
    Will you be doing a follow up blog on the Special Education Dept and the letter they received from 6e state last week for being out of compliance and the state directives that were given?

  21. Some initial concerns in no particular order:
    1) School district needs to pay for it or volunteers will drop off a cliff
    2) What is the process to track who has and has not passed their background check?
    3) How can we insure the privacy / data security of the volunteers applying for background checks?
    4) Can it be set up with a “deemed pass” where, in the absence of hearing that you failed the background check, you are eligible to volunteer within a set period of time (24 hrs? 48 hrs?)
    5) How long are the background checks good before they expire?
    6) Which DCSD administrator has a family member in the background check business?

  22. escapeefromDekalb

    Adrienne Duncan and Jimmy V–

    Great points– when has this board EVER looked at the consequences of their actions? I can’t help but wonder what fabulous system they are paying for that called me this week to invite me to a Stakeholder meeting at AIC for all parents and concerned Dekalb Citizens– even though I moved from the county and it’s schools over 13 YEARS AGO.
    I question everything they do at this point.

  23. Ben Greenwald

    As someone who used to work in sales for a background check company, I have the following comments:

    1. Contrary to what most believe, there is no centralized database that records an individual’s criminal activity. Even an FBI check using Fingerprints will miss convictions.
    2. The fastest and cheapest check is one of the database options. Typically costs only a few dollars. Unfortunately it has a lot of gaps in coverage and will generate a lot of false positives as it matches on name and date of birth. If your name is common you will likely fail this check.
    3. More expensive ($25 to $50) options are county level checks which typically take a week or so. They check criminal records in the counties where the person being checked has lived. The issue with that is that it doesn’t check nearby counties. For example in the 27 years I have lived in Atlanta I have only lived in Dekalb and Fulton Counties. An organization checking my background would only check those counties and not Cobb, Forsyth, Gwinnett, etc.
    4. State Checks are broader but many counties don’t report their convictions to the state.
    5. The FBI check depends on local county governments reporting convictions to the FBI. Many do not report or only report serious felony convictions.

    I believe that Federal law requires that you must offer the subject of a background check the opportunity to contest any findings. What is the process that DCSD is going to put into place for this process?

    What will be the standard for denying access? For example what if a background check indicates that a parent was convicted of misdemeanor theft 20 years ago. Are they no longer allowed to volunteer? What about DUI. What crimes are disqualifies and does time since the crime make any difference?

    For parents that are identified as criminals how does that now impact non-volunteer interactions with that parent? For example, during the background check process for a volunteer, DCSD finds out that parent was convicted of Assault and Battery. Do we now let him/her have unsupervised visits with a teacher for parent teacher conferences? What happens when a parent comes up as a sex offender? Are they now allowed to drop off their child in the car pool lane?

    There is a lot of very personal information that is collected on the application for a background check and throughout the process. Basically everything you need for identify theft. What is going to be the process for protecting this information to ensure the information doesn’t make it to the wrong people? DCSD employees who handle this info will need to be carefully vetted and monitored.

    Finally, who is the provider of the background checks? How did they win the contract with DCSD? This is a super lucrative business. If we assume their are several thousand volunteers and employees across DCSD this is a huge contract for whomever is the provider.

  24. Does this have anything to do with the volunteer and band director incident at Towers High School?

    and what crimes would disqualify parents from volunteering? Because you can check if someone is a sex offender online for free. Just because someone passes a background check doesn’t mean anything. Maybe they’ve just never got caught. The only thing that will protect or kids is teachers, administrators, staff, and parents that are paying attention and vigilant.
    This seems unnecessary and will negatively impact schools with small PTAs. Many times parents volunteer on spot as needed. Will we then have to say – hold on you have to get a background check before you watch the kids at the jumpy house, or whatever it may be. What about if they’re selling things at an event or a school photographer – do they have to get background checks?

  25. I agree with anon. I believe this is motivated by the Towers HS incident and also the fact that two months ago a volunteer assistant basketball coach at Cedar Grove MS was charged with allegedly molesting one of the students. While unusual, these are serious, terrible situations, and certainly need to be prevented to the extent possible. Vigilance and supervision is best. However, it seems to me that most volunteering is very unlikely to create a bad situation — usually there is a staff person present and supervising, or multiple volunteers are present, or multiple students are present, and in those scenarios bad conduct seems highly unlikely. I think that the problems can occur when a single volunteer is alone with a student, and in that case (and only that case) the background check requirement would be appropriate. I agree with anon that checking the sex offender registry online for free would be a good idea – and wouldn’t impose an onerous burden as the background check would.

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