Parent volunteers who work with students in the Higley Unified School District will now be fingerprinted and the district may choose to conduct a background check.
The school board approved the new policy Thursday night that will be piloted through the end of the year. The district wants to assess the costs, which run between $25 and $60 per volunteer, and plans to survey parents and school staff to determine if this is the path the district wants to take, said Denise Birdwell, a district associate superintendent.
“It’s not a requirement to fingerprint parents, but it is our obligation to fingerprint adults working with our kids,” Birdwell said.
Parent volunteers who work in a school office or help under the supervision of a teacher will now be asked to complete a volunteer information form that includes employment and criminal history. Birdwell calls the form an “honesty check.”
The three-tiered policy outlines what checks the district will conduct depending on how much interaction the volunteer has with students.
Volunteers also will now receive a basic orientation including information on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, first aid and CPR, and guidelines on how best to interact with students and how to avoid false accusations.
The district has been discussing how to change the policy on fingerprinting volunteers after inconsistencies were found on who should and shouldn’t be fingerprinted. The board last talked about the policy in January.
Before this new policy, the district did not fingerprint parents volunteering for field trips or those who work in classrooms, but did fingerprint volunteer coaches.
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.
Board member Nancy Eugenis said she appreciates the volunteer guidelines. She has volunteered in the past and expressed concern about a volunteer’s role working with students.
“The screening only screens out those who have done things before,” Eugenis said. These guidelines are needed “so we don’t have those situations.”
Higley officials plan to come back to the board in January to decide on a permanent policy, Birdwell said.
When Higley officials looked at putting together a new policy, they looked at neighboring districts’ policies for advice.
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.
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, parent volunteers who go on activities and supervise other children are required to be fingerprinted.
Under the policy, parents who help coach are not required to be fingerprinted. However, the district fingerprints them anyway.
A volunteer who isn’t a parent, such as a family member who wants to help out, is required to have a background check.