Background checks now required for LPSS school volunteers

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LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) – The Lafayette Parish School Board is now requiring chaperones and volunteers to submit background checks before attending school-related events.

The School System says a new bill passed this spring tightened requirements for background checks on people working closely with children.

But some parents say that while they’re all for a safer environment at school, they’re concerned about a lack of privacy with these background checks.
    
“We received a text message saying that LPSS was requiring all volunteers who planned on going on field trips this year to be fingerprinted,” said Anna Elledge, a LPSS parent.

She’s one of many parents who serve as chaperones or volunteers for school functions, who now needs a background check.

“Again, overkill. Why spend the money if i’m going to see my daughter sing at a Veterans Day program and go right back to work?” said Elledge.

During the past legislative session in the Spring, House Bill 769 strengthened requirements of the background checks, to prohibit schools from hiring people convicted of felony offenses.

“Our principals, our school administrators, are always kind of concerned about who’s working with the kid, any employee that’s hired. Anybody who’s working with the kids we do background checks on them,” said Joe Craig, Chief Administrative Officer for LPSS.

While Craig sees it as a safety concern, state law doesn’t necessarily require any K through 12 volunteers to have to submit the checks. 

“Part of the discussion these days is, as you said, what’s a volunteer? And what’s their involvement with the kids and the schools. And a lot of the principals, and I support them in this, they want to air on the side of caution, and they’d rather see more people have background checks,” he said.

“If you’ve lived in 5 other states, if the School Board’s saying that they’re just doing background checks in the State of Louisiana, well I may have been behaving well in Louisiana and bad in those 5 other states,” said Elledge.

There’s also no law protecting those parents who do submit a background check, as a court order could have the information released because they are public records. But Craig says the records would not be released.

“The background checks would fall under the realm of personal records and we wouldn’t be able to divulge any of that information,” he said.

The money to conduct these background checks is coming out of the School System’s General Fund, which means it’s tax dollars.

“We do want our children to be protected and safe guarded at all costs, we just want to make sure that it’s done the correct way. Through proper channels, and make sure that the law that it’s based off of that these policies are written on, is taken in it’s entirety,” Elledge said.

The Louisiana Education Advocacy Group has released a statement on the background checks: “We understand and respect that school boards have the authority to essentially make up whatever policy they want. However, without a well-thought-out policy, it leaves room for litigation, and does not in any way address a parent’s right to privacy or right to not be discriminated against for what is in that record. It’s basically a recipe for disaster. The premise of the background checks is to ensure those around our children are risk-free. That’s why teachers and support staff are required to do it. The state allows anyone to exam the criminal background check of those individuals. Parents don’t sign a statement of understanding when they register a student accepting they might have to do a background check or fingerprinting. Because there is no law requiring volunteers to do this, there’s no supporting protection for it. Thus, according to the attorneys we have consulted with, the only way the law allows for a volunteer’s background check to be reviewed is through a public records request. Under the law, because those records are paid for and maintained by a public school system, they are public record. We aren’t convinced that parents know that fact is a reality of this practice. We are in favor of background checks for volunteers; however, we want to know how volunteers are defined, and in what situations will these volunteers be around students. Our concern is with the logistics, the language of the policy, and whether or not it violates any rights.” 
 

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