Higley schools consider fingerprinting volunteers - East Valley Tribune: News

Higley schools consider fingerprinting volunteers

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Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2008 10:18 am | Updated: 10:01 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The Higley Unified School District is discussing how to change the district’s policy on fingerprinting volunteers after inconsistencies were found on who should and shouldn’t be fingerprinted.

Should all parent volunteers be fingerprinted, even if they only volunteer in their child’s classroom under the supervision of the teacher? Or, should parent volunteers only be fingerprinted if they are helping out on a field trip or overnight trip where they will be alone with other students?

“The policy now doesn’t regulate which volunteers should be fingerprinted,” said Denise Birdwell, Higley’s assistant superintendent for human resources. “Regulations need to be developed on how they are processed and if they should be fingerprinted.”

Birdwell said she will present a recommended regulation to the board next month.

If approved, the new regulation would start the next school year.

The district does not currently fingerprint parents volunteering for field trips or those who work in classrooms, but does fingerprint volunteer coaches, Birdwell said.

“We just want to ensure that we can say to the other parents that the people who work with children have been verified to be safe with children,” Birdwell said.

“We want parent volunteers. We just want to show to other parents that we did the due diligence to provide a safe environment for children,” she said.

The district put in place a more stringent employee fingerprint policy last year after a former band assistant, who had not been fingerprinted, was charged with sexually assaulting a student.

Jeremy Ross Calvert was not fingerprinted because he was a noncertified employee. The district has since changed that policy and all employees have to be fingerprinted.

Michelle Rigby has three children in the Higley district, and has volunteered on several field trips and helped out in the classroom.

She said although she’s never thought about fingerprinting volunteers before, she’s OK with the procedure, as long as it doesn’t take too much time.

“I think if you required all parents to be fingerprinted, they’ll get less volunteers,” said Rigby, a Parent Teacher Organization president at Gateway Pointe Elementary School.

“Maybe if they can do the fingerprinting at each school and make it convenient, then that would be the way to do it,” Rigby said.

The Higley district has checked with neighboring districts to learn what their policies require.

The Queen Creek Unified School District does not fingerprint parent volunteers unless they are contracted to coach in the district.

Volunteers who are not parents of a child in the district are all fingerprinted, said Superintendent James Murlless.

The Gilbert Unified School District does not fingerprint parent volunteers who work in their children’s classrooms or go on field trips with their children. However, if the parent volunteer is going on an activity and supervising other children, they are required to be fingerprinted, said Shane McCord, executive director of human resources for the Gilbert district.

Under the policy, parents who help coach are not required to be fingerprinted. However, the district fingerprints them anyway, McCord said.

A volunteer who isn’t a parent, such as a family member who wants to help out, is required to have a background check, McCord said.

“We want to make sure that we have people out there that don’t have anything in their background that would put the school district in liability,” McCord said. “We’re not wanting to put children in harm’s way.”

Tracy Sloan spent part of her Friday teaching art to her daughter’s fifth-grade class at Greenfield Elementary School in Gilbert.

Sloan said fingerprinting is not a “bad idea.” She’s been fingerprinted in the past because she formerly drove buses for the Gilbert district, and has volunteered for about 10 years.

“I would want to know that the person escorting my daughter to the bathroom is safe,” said Sloan, the school’s Parent Teacher Student Organization treasurer. “I don’t feel it’s necessary in the classroom, but should be done for a field trip, especially overnight trips.”

The Higley district discussed a likely tiered procedure that would have volunteers fingerprinted depending on their level of interaction with children.

An orientation or handouts with pertinent information is also being worked on to help volunteers, Birdwell said.

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