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New volunteer screening process to be implemented

Posted: October 20, 2011 4:14 p.m.
Updated: October 21, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Effective Feb. 1, some volunteers with the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) will have to pay $25 for a S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) background check.

During Tuesday evening’s Kershaw County Board of School Trustees meeting, KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan presented the board with the new tiered procedure for screening volunteers. Morgan suspended the procedure earlier this year due to concerns expressed by community members. In August, he convened a “work group” of parents and administrators to review the proposed procedure.

“The basic differentiation is that a volunteer who has necessity to be possibly alone with a student -- and I think that’s going to be a fairly lower percentage of volunteers, maybe 10 percent or less -- would be required to get a SLED check,” he said, adding that the proposal splits volunteers into two levels.

Examples of Level I volunteers include ticket collectors, office helpers, guest speakers, presenters, readers, concession stand operators, clean-up committees, Field Day volunteers, library helpers, room parents, classroom helpers, School Improvement Council members, and assistants for school pictures and testing.

Examples of Level II volunteers, which would be required to pay the $25 SLED fee, include day field trip volunteers, volunteers participating in overnight travel or extended accommodations, student teachers, field placement students, coaches, tutors, chaperones and mentors.

“Parents will not be required to have a SLED check to eat lunch with their student, attend an assembly or program or bring a birthday treat,” Morgan said.

The SLED check will remain effective for two years, and those completed before the new fee becomes effective Feb. 1 would be valid through the end of the 2013-14 school year. The school district will still accept SLED checks done by other organizations for employment purposes.

Morgan said a common misperception is that the school district has always conducted SLED checks on volunteers.

In the past, after a prospective volunteer completed an application at a KCSD school, a volunteer coordinator conducted a free background check on the applicant through the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Registry. Approved applicants were then placed on the school district’s volunteer list.

Morgan said another common misperception is that the school district qualified for a reduced $8 SLED check fee offered to non-profit organizations.

“I think the thought process on some folks’ part was that charging $25 would be money made by the district,” he said, explaining that potential volunteers must pay the $25 fee because the district does not qualify for a discount; the entire $25 fee will go directly to a SLED check.

Morgan suggested volunteers who are unable to pay the fee ask school parent-teacher associations or booster clubs for assistance as hardship cases.

“I believe that it is prudent for us to take this step for volunteers who are alone with students,” he said. “I honestly don’t think it’s going to be a massive number of people. This parallels what we’re seeing in a lot of other school districts.”

During a discussion of the procedure, Trustee Jim Smith said someone suggested to him that SEAGUL fees be used to cover the cost of SLED checks since that program requires chaperones for a number of overnight trips.

“It comes down to who needs who the most … and we need them,” Smith said of chaperones.

Vice Chair Mara Jones said, however, that placing additional fees on SEAGUL would be punitive, and that in many cases, parents are turned away from chaperoning SEAGUL field trips because too many volunteers have signed up.

Trustee Nissary Wood also told the board the fee affects more than field trip volunteers, as it also includes mentors who work one-on-one with students.

“In my ‘Kumbayah’ world, I would want us as a school district to pay for the volunteers instead of having the volunteers pay out of their pocket. We’re asking them for their time to come in and help us,” she said. “We need them.”

Morgan told the board it could consider budgeting money for the SLED check fees in the upcoming fiscal year 2012-13 budget process. While trustees agreed they were supportive of the new tiered procedure, they asked that the information about hardship case assistance be included in the new policy.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 1 at Camden High School.

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