It’s hard to believe that summer is flying by so fast, but many schools will be back in session in a couple of weeks! As schools begin a new year, they will be relying on parents, college students, and other community members to help implement programs, assist in the classroom, chaperone field trips, and provide students with the opportunity for more one-on-one attention.
An increased community presence in schools can be very beneficial for both students and staff, but it also brings an added element of potential danger. From coast to coast, news reports can be found about school volunteers trafficking in child pornography, engaging in inappropriate relationships with students, and behaving in ways that are detrimental or harmful to the very children they are brought in to help. Although these same offenses are occasionally committed by school district employees, the more rigorous and standardized screening processes that school employees undergo in each state provide an additional safeguard that makes it less likely for school systems to hire bad actors.
Due to a heightened awareness in recent years of the risks of having unvetted volunteers in direct contact with children, many school districts, and even some states, have put additional background checking requirements in place so personnel know exactly who is coming into contact with students. While this may seem like an imposition, many parents are happy to know that their kids are receiving an extra layer of protection against possible predators.
Nevada’s New Law Requires Fingerprint Background Checks for School Volunteers
In Nevada, fingerprint background checks are now required due to the passage of Senate Bill 287 in 2017. Specifically, the bill requires that those who are considered regular volunteers (those who visit four or more times per month) undergo these additional security measures. Ultimately enforcement is up to the Principal of the school.
Additionally, the law requires all those who volunteer to be fingerprinted if they have regular contact OR unsupervised contact with students. Fingerprinting is now required every five years for volunteers that meet this criteria.
The law also mandates that volunteers who will have one-time unsupervised contact with students must go through the fingerprinting process.
Finally, the law requires volunteers to act as mandatory reporters of child abuse and sign a document acknowledging that responsibility.
Concerns Over Fingerprinting and Background Checks for Volunteers
There are many opponents to the new law for a variety of reasons.
Cost: Who is footing the bill for the processing fees associated with these background checks? It depends on the school district. Clark County School District, for example, is not picking up the cost, leaving valuable volunteer programs, like the Foster Grandparent program through the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, to contend with the financial obstacles their elderly fixed-income volunteers now face. External funding options are being explored in many districts to help cover the costs.
This processing fee can also be prohibitive to low-income families whose parents can’t afford the cost of fingerprinting in order to be involved with their child’s school.
Fortunately, some fingerprinting facilities have stepped up and offered discounts on fingerprinting services for teachers and volunteers to help defray the cost. Unfortunately, some school districts in Nevada are charging as much as $60.00 per volunteer. They claim they are not generating revenue on school volunteers, but private businesses are charging 21% less than the County School Departments and still make a profit.
Intimidation: Opponents to background checking also point out that these requirements may create a chilly atmosphere where parents and other volunteers don’t feel trusted or welcomed. Parents with prior records, even those occurring years ago, might shy away from fingerprinting due to a minor infraction that they don’t want disclosed.
Additionally, undocumented immigrants may opt not to volunteer for fear that they will be asked to provide a social security number during the background check process.
Effectiveness: Those against the new requirements also question the effectiveness of fingerprinting and background checks. They point to recent charges against school district employees for inappropriate behavior with and around children, despite school districts’ rigorous security protocol for teachers and other school staff, including an extensive background check process during hiring which includes an FBI background check, fingerprinting, and a local criminal history inquiry. Staff members in many districts also undergo training regarding child abuse and inappropriate relationships with students.
Advocates of School Volunteer Fingerprinting and Background Checks
While some argue against these additional safety measures, many parents are happy to have the extra level of safety and security.
A common theme echoed by parents and volunteers in support of volunteer background checks is that students need all the protection they can get. Ray Ortega, a volunteer mentor at the Colinas del Norte Elementary School, says, “You can’t be too safe when it comes to people being in contact with kids.”
As a case in point, a volunteer coach at Cimarron-Memorial High School was arrested last year for having a sexual relationship with one of the students. The affair was not discovered until the man’s suspicious wife turned him in after finding incriminating photos on his phone. Future background checks will probably prevent this man from working in schools again.
Fans of the law argue that while inconvenient, it is important to make sure that individuals with criminal backgrounds, especially those involving sexual crimes, don’t have direct access to children. While the vast majority of parent and community volunteers are amazing, caring people, it is possible that criminals can slip in and exploit this vulnerable population.
The Volunteering Process for Nevada Schools
The requirements to volunteer vary slightly from district to district. In the Clark County School District, there is a four-step process that needs to be followed in order for volunteers to be able to help out in a school. These steps include:
- Filling out an online volunteer application
- Processing payment to complete fingerprinting and a background check
- Agreeing to be a mandatory child abuse reporter
- Issuance of a volunteer badge
Washoe County follows a similar process by requiring potential volunteers to fill out an application and provide valid photo identification. The application is then reviewed against the Nevada Sex Offender Registry and the National Sex Offender Public Websites by school personnel. Fingerprinting and a full state and federal background check are done depending on the type of volunteer opportunity the individual is participating in. If this is required, the district will cover the costs.
Requiring school volunteers to undergo a thorough screening process is an important component of keeping children in our communities safe while still giving members of those same communities opportunities to positively impact younger generations. If you are interested in becoming a school volunteer, check with your local school district now so you have time to meet all of the requirements for the start of the new school year.
At Fingerprinting Express, we applaud teachers and volunteers for the important work they do in teaching and supporting our children and keeping them safe. If you are considering becoming a volunteer in your local school district, get in touch with us. We are happy to help in any way we can.
Fingerprinting Express offers teacher and volunteer discounts and fast background check turnaround times at each of our four convenient and clean Nevada locations! Our fingerprints are guaranteed, and we have the lowest rejection rates, so you save money and time. If you want to learn more about us, read what our customers are saying.
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