Roaring Fork Valley schools fingerprint parent volunteers
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Before they lend a hand, school volunteers in the Roaring Fork Valley must first show their fingerprints.
On April 17, the Aspen Community School in Woody Creek, the Carbondale Community School and the Early Childhood Center joined the ranks of valley schools that require volunteers to undergo fingerprinting and a background check. The community schools are public K-8 charter schools, and the preschool is private. All are overseen by the nonprofit COMPASS.
Only those who plan to volunteer four or more times during a school year or accompany students on an overnight activity must submit to fingerprinting at the COMPASS schools.
Last fall, the Roaring Fork School District, which includes schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, began requiring a fingerprint check for adults who volunteer more than three times at schools.
“It was sort of an arbitrary number, but we felt that was reasonable for people who just wanted to volunteer a few times ” and they’re not the kind of person a kid really gets to know,” said Superintendent Judy Haptonstall.
The Aspen School District has been taking fingerprints of its volunteers ” and completing a background check ” for “at least three years,” according to human resources coordinator Ginny Haberman. Aspen requires that all volunteers be fingerprinted.
Neither district has yet had a background check that indicated someone shouldn’t volunteer with children.
“The whole idea was that if someone really had a problem…fingerprinting is one of those things that might deter them,” Haberman said.
But Kristin Anderson, at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said her research has shown that 2 percent of those who want to volunteer with children have a criminal record that indicates they shouldn’t. Anderson is nearing the end of a five-year pilot program in which she has processed nearly 50,000 fingerprints of would-be volunteers at youth-serving organizations.
“It’s surprising to me that people who know they still have criminal histories will still submit to fingerprints,” said Anderson.
Both Haptonstall and Haberman say that volunteers in the valley are generally willing to cooperate.
There were a few objectors in the Aspen School District, but after hearing the explanation, they understood, Haberman said.
In the Roaring Fork District, one volunteer “took exception” to the new policy, said Haberman. He has not returned.
At present, the decision to fingerprint volunteers is one made by local school districts. But Haberman said that when the Aspen School District decided to begin fingerprinting volunteers, administrators honestly thought the practice might be legislated soon.
Haptonstall said she wouldn’t be surprised if schools are mandated ” by state or federal law ” to fingerprint volunteers within the next 10 years. She cautioned that such a mandate could be held back by concerns about its cost or superceded by a greater safety concern.
Anderson was less optimistic.
“I think it’s going to take a long time…and it’s going to take political will on several levels,” she said.
She thought that concerns about the expense of fingerprinting programs, as well as those about civil liberties, could prevent the practice from becoming widespread anytime soon.
In the meantime, local schools will continue to ask volunteers to submit to a review before spending time with school children.
“In Aspen, we always consider ourselves to be in a very safe situation, and we can’t assume that any longer,” said Haberman. “We have to be alert.”
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