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Hempfield implements new requirements for all volunteers

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

Hempfield Area School District has adopted a new policy requiring all volunteers to obtain background clearances and a tuberculosis test.

Volunteers must now obtain a:

• Act 151 child abuse history clearance;

• Act 34 criminal history report from state police;

• Act 114 FBI clearance if a person has worked outside of Pennsylvania and is applying to be a volunteer coach or field trip chaperone;

• TB test.

Solicitor Dennis Slyman emphasized that the policy was put into place to protect children.

“To have an adult come in and interact with our students, we want to make sure we have done everything humanly possible for the benefit and safety of our children,” he said.

The requirements must be met by Parents in Education, or PIE, volunteers and Seniors Earning Rebates Volunteering in Schools, known as Servis volunteers.

Laura Urbani, a PIE volunteer at Maxwell Elementary and Wendover Middle schools, said the new policy is a sign of the times.

“Sports organizations — everybody's doing background checks,” said the mother of two boys, ages 11 and 10. “My clearances are already turned in.”

Urbani said a meeting was held in early December at Maxwell to explain the policy. There was no opposition and many volunteers have already submitted the required information.

“This (policy) is very different. It surprised me there were no negative responses, but everybody received it very well,” Urbani said.

“A lot of this is coming from what has transpired in our country the last couple years in relation to kids,” said Tim Kotch, assistant superintendent for secondary education. “We have a lot of people coming in to work with kids. This gives parents and teachers a sense of safety that they have been cleared.”

The district must perform its due diligence to ensure the safety of students under its care, Kotch said.

The policy covers all assistive volunteers, including homeroom parents, volunteers who help with PTO fundraisers and chaperones at school dances.

It applies to independent volunteers, such as chaperones at the prom, field trips or volunteer nurses, and volunteer coaches and sponsors, including athletic trainers or equipment managers, musicians or technical directors, and those who provide instruction to students in the marching band.

The TB tests are nothing new, said Dr. Barbara Marin, assistant superintendent for elementary education. She said staff members have always been required to receive the tests.

Those excluded include visitors such as guest speakers and people attending student performances, academic induction ceremonies or athletic events.

People associated with booster clubs, such as volunteers at concession stands and for ticket sales, are also exempt.

Marin said the policy benefits the volunteers as much as the students.

Marin said a committee of parents, teachers and school board members was formed to plan the policy.

Members scrutinized similar policies already in place at Yough and Gateway school districts, as well as districts in the eastern part of the state.

Marin said the policy is not designed to discourage volunteers.

“We value our volunteers,” she said. “This is not a negative thing but a positive one. A lot of volunteers bring academic help, clerical help, help in the library.

“They are a vital and contributing part of our community that really do serve to enhance our district. Our intent was not to make it more difficult, but to create a safer environment.”

“This is a big change in the way we operate,” Kotch said. “Uneasiness (comes) with change but everyone realizes this is something we need to do.”

Michele Stewardson is a freelance writer.