One of the hallmarks of the current school year – and our tremendous County – is the presence of an army of community volunteers. These selfless people give their energy, time and unique skill sets to the greater mission of inspiring and maximizing the potential of our students.
In past years, we’ve had misunderstandings, even discrepancies, concerning how we require and administer the background checks for volunteers. That’s been cleared up, as reflected in this post.
But we still seem to have some unrest among some community members regarding this issue.
The Code of Virginia requires that:
As a condition of employment, school boards of the Commonwealth shall require any applicant who is offered or accepts employment after July 1, 1989, whether full-time or part-time, permanent, or temporary, to submit to fingerprinting and to provide personal descriptive information to be forwarded along with the applicant’s fingerprints through the Central Criminal records Exchange to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the purpose of obtaining criminal history record information regarding such applicant. (Code Reference)
Let’s be clear. School Boards in Virginia are required by law to do a background check on anyone who’s going to work in the school division – no matter what capacity or how long they plan to work. Hourly tutors doing remediation for a week, evening custodians, substitute teachers – doesn’t matter. If we’re going to employ them for even one hour, the law says they need to be fingerprinted.
In Goochland, we have chosen to closely follow the guidelines for employees as we consider our volunteers. We have flexibility, but have chosen only to exercise it in very unique circumstances.
The guidelines I have provided to principals include two simple questions:
- Will the volunteer ever be unsupervised with children?
- Will the volunteer be regularly spending time with children?
If the answer is “yes” to either question, we require a background check. Like the Code, we don’t not attempt to draw lines among people – those we know/don’t know, those our friends know/don’t know, those who seem trustworthy/seem suspicious, those with whom we’ve worked before/those who we’ve never met.
That’s a fruitless exercise and a very slippery slope. Like you, I know people I trust explicitly and would never suggest they are a danger to your children. Our commitment is to ensure every parent that we will not give any adult access to their children, unsupervised or repeated, without ensuring that adult has completed the background check – the same one required by law of our employees.
We believe it’s our obligation to confidently look our community in the eyes and say we are doing all we can to ensure your children are safe at school.
It can be awkward to require those who have been volunteering in past years without the background check and doing inspiring work in our schools to submit to a fingerprint check. Those are often individuals who are well-known to be powerful positive influences in our community. It seems to be an affront to the selfless and generous spirit those people have poured out when we ask them to go through a criminal background check. It’s as though we think they might be criminals.
We don’t. Just as we don’t suspect the exemplary candidates to whom we offer jobs in our division to be criminals either. But as the law requires that we screen all employees, we extend that same level of precaution to all adults who will have repeated or unsupervised access to your children. No matter who they are.
Not because we suspect they need it, but because we want every parent to rest easy that we aren’t making that kind of subjective judgement call when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of their children.
I commend our School Board for supporting this perspective and ensuring that we’ve identified the funds to make sure these background checks are done on our dime, not the volunteers’.
We would never want to offend anyone, especially our wonderful volunteers. It’s even more important to us that every parent, after they put their children on a bus or drop them off at the school doors, goes into the day will absolute certainty that their children are safe.
Your child’s safety is non-negotiable.