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Clark County schools fear $60 background checks may dissuade volunteers

Updated August 8, 2017 - 9:59 pm

A new law intended to keep children safe from sexual predators in schools could lead to a substantial drop-off in volunteers, school officials and concerned parents say.

The law requires that all school volunteers in Nevada who might have regular or unsupervised contract with students be fingerprinted and pass a background check before serving. In Clark County, at least, the volunteers will be asked to pay $60 for those safeguards.

Clark County School District officials, trustees, teachers and community members all say that could damage the culture of volunteerism that schools have labored to create.

Meredith Freeman, a parent of twins at McCaw Elementary School in Henderson, said she’s sure legislators didn’t intend to discourage volunteers but predicted the law will have that effect.

‘You … locked the doors’

“You just basically locked the doors,” Freeman said. “There are a lot of questions.”

Trustees are set to adopt a new policy Thursday that incorporates the new state law on background checks for volunteers and spells out how and when teachers should communicate with students via social media. Both issues were highlighted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s recent Broken Trust series, which examined sexual misconduct in the school district.

Whether or not the policy is adopted Thursday, the district must follow the state law when school resumes Monday.

A message from the school district to school principals this week provided some guidance as to who needs fingerprinting and who doesn’t but also said the district awaits further clarification from the state.

“In the meantime, please continue to require fingerprinting for volunteers and representatives who were previously required to be fingerprinted and who regularly spend one-on-one time alone with students, such as tutors and volunteer coaches,” the message reads. “At this time, you do not need to require infrequent volunteers or visitors who are not spending time alone with students to fingerprint.”

The law is silent as to who should pay for the fingerprinting and background check, but in Clark County, volunteers will foot the $60 bill. It’s unclear how many volunteers will be affected.

Impact on extracurricular activities

“Parents are upset now they have to pay to volunteer,” said Ryan Fromoltz, a Canyon Springs High School teacher. Fromoltz was worried about extracurricular clubs such as speech and debate and National Honor Society, in which parents are heavily involved.

The human resources staff, which reviews background checks for employees, also will review the volunteer checks and use the same criteria to reject a volunteer as they use to reject an employee.

State Sen. Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, the bill’s sponsor, said the law intentionally left room for the school district to set policy and define who needs a background check and who doesn’t.

“The way the bill was written was to provide great discretion to the school district or to the state Department of Education. That was intentional,” she said. “We want them to come up with their policies that work for them.”

Gansert said she had a call scheduled with district officials on Wednesday to further discuss the requirements.

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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