Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler spoke in front of the Lansing Central School District Board of Education on Sept. 25, asking the board to consider requiring background checks for volunteers who come into the schools to work, which is already required of paid employees at the school district.
“We asked other people in other school districts, and they’ve been like, ‘Oh, no. Everybody that comes to our schools has a background check,’” Sigler said. “Just something hopefully you’ll think about. Maybe look at the policy … and if you find the policy lacking, maybe we should tighten that up.”
President of the BOE Christine Iacobucci said the board’s policy committee could examine its rules regarding background checks. Superintendent Chris Pettograsso said she has already spoken with officials from the surrounding school districts about their policies for background checks for volunteers.
“I’ve talked to other schools and [what] people at other schools are referring to for their volunteer policy is volunteers that are a part of programs that are consistent, that are school programs, those volunteers are all vetted and work approved,” Pettograsso said. “[But] for one person that comes in maybe for a Thanksgiving feast or somebody volunteers in a classroom, other schools aren’t doing that vetting process that you are saying. It might be. I’ll look into it, but when I talked at the superintendent meeting, it wasn’t that type of vetting.”
The Dryden Central School Districts requires its volunteers to take a fingerprint test and gain approval from the Board of Education members. The Ledger reached out to the Ithaca City, Groton, Trumansburg, Spencer-Van Etten, Candor and Newfield School Districts regarding policies for background checks for volunteers, but was unable to make contact with officials from those districts.
In terms of volunteers in classroom settings, Pettograsso said the district already has some guidelines for those volunteers.
“We have regulations around that, which are that they have to sign in, they have to be principal-approved, they have to be approved by an administrator, they have to always be present with either a teacher or an administrator,” she said. “They’re never left alone with children. So those are the processes. There’s no policy that says we’re going to have fingerprinting, and it would not be feasible for every person that comes in to support the school.”
“We could look at that for sure; we can look at what other schools do. But it’s really an approval process with the principal, who will do some initial vetting … but the more concerning thing is that any adult that is volunteering is never left alone with any student without a teacher or an administrator.”
Pettograsso said the background check process is similar for chaperones for school trips, although the district usually hires paid chaperones for those occasions.