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Background checks could include Baldwin-Whitehall School District volunteers

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 8:33 p.m.

Background checks could include Baldwin-Whitehall School District volunteers as administrators take a closer look at school safety.

“Ultimately, the goal is to keep students safe,” Superintendent Randal Lutz said.

Safety is at the forefront of many school district discussions after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, and Baldwin-Whitehall is no exception. Officials are working to better monitor employees' clearances throughout his or her career. The district also is set to adopt a policy on volunteers that would require anyone who comes into the schools to submit to the same clearances as employees.

“I think we have a good process in place,” Lutz said. “The district has to be prepared for what comes next.”

Job candidates first are screened for qualifications and a preliminary interview before they are asked to seek clearances, Lutz said.

“The clearances will give you a hit on anything,” Lutz said. “We do not move forward until we have the clearances in hand.”

Three clearances are required for anyone hired in the district, Lutz said. The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare issues a child abuse clearance through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. The district also requires clearances from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Pennsylvania State Police.

Hits on any felony or arrests or convictions for violence, endangering the welfare of children, sexual acts or drugs will disqualify candidates, Lutz said.

Other arrests or conviction for crimes such as driving under the influence, underage drinking, speeding or parking citations might not disqualify a candidate, but there will be discussion about the incident, Lutz said. Hiring managers look at where that employee will work and in what capacity before determining whether to hire the person.

“Some don't disqualify someone from work,” Lutz said. “I know some very, very respected people in this district and they make some mistakes ... We look at that and we talk about it.”

Lutz, a district employee since 1996, received clearances when he was hired, but has had none since then, he said. In 2011, Act 24 became law, requiring all school employees to disclose any criminal arrests or convictions, Lutz said.

“The onus is on the employee,” Lutz said. “If people fail to report, it will end in discipline.”

Likewise, the district's human resources officials will begin doing checks to make sure employees have disclosed arrests or convictions, Lutz said.

The school board also is in the reviewing a policy that addresses volunteers — defining them and requiring them to submit to background clearances. The policy states that the cost of the clearances will be the responsibility of the volunteer or the parent or boosters group they represent.

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at lvanwert@tribweb.com.

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