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North Allegheny could require background checks for volunteers

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The North Allegheny School Board is considering a policy intended to keep students safer, but some board members and parents worry that it might deter people from volunteering at schools.

School directors on Aug. 20 discussed a draft of a policy that would require all volunteers entering North Allegheny school buildings to go through background checks through a third party.

“This is a measure to make sure our kids are as safe as they can be,” Assistant Superintendent Robert Scherrer said.

Prospective volunteers would be responsible for signing up through an online service called Secure Volunteer, which would charge them $16.95 for the background check and provide them with a card verifying that they were approved for volunteer work.

The approval would be valid for one year before volunteers would need to reapply.

The board was to discuss the issue further at an Aug. 27 meeting, after this edition's deadline.

“We'd essentially be charging volunteers to come volunteer in our buildings,” school director Libby Blackburn said in criticism of the proposed policy.

School director Kevin Mahler said he supports making schools safer but wonders about the practicality of making all volunteers get clearances.

“I'm not sure if someone coming in for one party a year necessarily needs this,” he said.

Several parents at the meeting spoke out against the proposed policy.

“We already have a very small volunteer base,” said Allyson Minton, a McCandless resident and parent volunteer at McKnight Elementary. “This just makes it harder for us to get volunteers.”

Steve Robinson, senior director of communications for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said no state law requires school volunteers to undergo background checks.

“It's completely a local decision,” he said. The Harrisburg-based organization does not have data on how many districts have such policies, he said.

Some other school districts in the Pittsburgh area, such as Quaker Valley, Hampton Township and Franklin Regional, have policies that require volunteers to undergo background checks.

Tina Vojtko, director of communications and development at Quaker Valley, said the policy there, adopted in 2009, has not had a long-term negative impact on the number of volunteers coming into district schools, although there was a drop initially. The number later rebounded.

“It's certainly a little inconvenient for volunteers, but they always feel it's well worth it,” Vojtko said.

Quaker Valley volunteers do not need to renew their background checks each year.

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. Reach her at kshea@tribweb.com.

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