District moves forward with fingerprint policy

Pete FowlerGlenwood Springs correpondent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS Regular volunteers in the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 likely will have to undergo fingerprinting for background checks in the future.The RFSD Board of Education approved the first reading of a new volunteer policy Wednesday despite some concerns about how effective it would be at increasing safety. There are three readings for each policy, so it has not yet been finalized.”I do not believe fingerprinting will increase the safety of our kids at all – only the appearance of safety,” board member Bruce Wampler said.Board member Bob Johnson said there isn’t such a thing as complete safety, so the reality is that the appearance of safety also merits consideration.Board President Michael Bair mentioned the shifting attitudes of society. He used the example of the snowball: Before, snowball fights at school were a harmless part of growing up, but all it took was one kid getting his eye put out to get the practice banned altogether.”We live in a society where we have to err on the side of the safety of our kids,” he said.Part of implementing the new policy is an effort to achieve more consistency in schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt. In the past, some volunteers were fingerprinted and others weren’t. Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said it was the result of a lack of clarity about how to define a volunteer. The new policy requires fingerprinting anyone who volunteers more than three times in one school year or participate in overnight activities. Fingerprinting is not necessary for participants in overnight activities such as “read-a-thons,” where many parents are together in the same place for an infrequent or one-time event.”If fingerprinting prevents one incident, it’s worth every bit of it,” Haptonstall said.The district says all of its employees must be fingerprinted – even those not directly dealing with kids such as maintenance staff. Bair suggested that even though board members aren’t often directly interacting with the kids, maybe they should all be fingerprinted as a show of good faith.Jon Banks, father of a Glenwood Springs sixth-grader, has been following the issue. Bair said the board commends Banks for his diligence in coming in and keeping the board focused.Banks used to volunteer once a week at Sopris Elementary School, about 30 times a year. But now, he will limit his volunteering because he believes fingerprinting surrenders too much for too little benefit.”I respect their decision,” he said.But, he doesn’t think fingerprinting will be effective, and he is concerned about the intrusion on privacy. Fingerprints become the property of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the FBI. He also said they become public records. According to his own research, he said school volunteers are not one of the biggest threats to student safety.”[Fingerprinting] is an ineffective way to solve a small problem,” he said. “I believe fingerprinting is merely an attempt to pass on the responsibility of safety to law enforcement.”In his mind, the best way to handle the situation would be simply working harder to get to know volunteers. But he said it is a tough issue, and he understands why the board made the decision it did. He said Sopris Elementary handled the issue well, at first giving him mundane activities like copying files, and later allowing him to work with students and teach advanced math once officials knew him better.He’s glad that the district seems to be reaching some level of consistency. He was frustrated by not being fingerprinted at Sopris and then being asked for fingerprints at Glenwood Middle School once he volunteered there when his daughter moved on.Another concern both board members and Banks raised was that the policy might make Latinos less likely to volunteer.”If your skin is a little darker than mine, you probably are so tired of being suspected that you’re not going to walk into a police station to get fingerprinted,” Banks said.